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The best Italian recipes to enjoy in summertime
No one does summer with quite so much sophistication, flair and gusto as the Italians. Just the thought of summertime in Italy conjures up images of pastel-coloured houses perched above azure seas, markets bursting with seasonal produce – fragrant melons, sun-ripened aubergines, zucchini flowers and regional delicacies, spritzes enjoyed in sun-drenched piazzas and locals strutting their stuff, gelato in hand, during the ritual evening passeggiata.
Whether you’re a connoisseur of all things Italian or just want to transport yourself to the Bel Paese (Beautiful Country) via its cuisine, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite Italian recipes – including cocktails, snacks, main meals and desserts – all of which come into their own in summertime.
Make like a Venetian and incorporate an aperitivo (a sort of happy-hour drinks and nibbles) into your day in the form of these snackable, crisp-fried squid rings accompanied by a refreshing, invigorating Aperol spritz. Any dish that comes with a cocktail on the side is buonissimo in our book…
These featherlight gnudi are one of those summer dishes you’d eat on holiday at a family-run trattoria and remember as a highlight of your trip. Serve with melted butter and a generous grating of parmesan, head alfresco to eat them, then close your eyes and imagine you’re in Italy.
The Italians are masters at throwing together sensational dishes from very few ingredients – and choosing those ingredients when they’re at their seasonal peak for maximum flavour. Angela Hartnett chargrills these late-summer romano peppers to emphasise their natural sweetness. Paired with herbs and anchovies, they make a fantastic antipasto.
This summer stunner is an authentic Puglian family recipe, and it makes a lovely starter served with Italian deli snacks such as olives or marinated artichokes. The dough is enriched with mashed potatoes, then studded with seasonal tomatoes – try sourcing as many different colours as you can to give this summer centrepiece extra wow factor.
We couldn’t round up the all-time greatest Italian summertime dishes without including pizza – a slice of pizza is the quintessential late-night Italian snack on long summer evenings. These individual pizzas have a spelt base and a moreish, creamy, bitter-sweet topping of radicchio, grapes, ricotta and mozzarella. One won’t be enough…
Mozzarella, tomatoes and basil is the holy trinity of Italian summer salads. This recipe ups the indulgence by swapping mozzarella for creamy burrata, roasting the tomatoes for added oomph, and garnishing with toasted pine nuts. Use the best olive oil and balsamic vinegar you can to enhance all the flavours.
When it comes to eating, Italians don’t stand on ceremony: rustic, flavourful, shareable dishes are the order of the day. Take these delicious crostini, whose zingy flavours and contrasting textures are best demolished alfresco with friends, accompanied by a light beer, or a glass (or two) of prosecco.
Calabrian chef Francesco Mazzei’s addictive vegetarian nibbles marry aubergines and herbs with a chilli-spiced red-pepper jam. They’re brilliant for handing round to guests while the barbecue sizzles away… or for serving as a relaxed dinner party starter.
You know the saying: when life gives you le…ftover risotto, make arancini. These crisp-coated, gooey-centred little labours of love were practically invented to be eaten with a beer and company. Make them as part of an elaborate antipasti, or as a snack to accompany an aperitivo.
This vegetarian-friendly version of lasagne translates simply as ‘aubergines’. The Italians do love an aubergine, and this classic dish layering aubergine slices with cheesy béchamel and herb-packed tomato sauce makes the most of this versatile vegetable. It’s best in summer but delicious at any time of year.
This sexy Italian classic is always impressive but so quick and easy to throw together, especially if you clean the clams in advance. Bring it to the table in the pan and serve with crusty bread and a chilled bottle of dry Italian white wine for maximum seaside holiday vibes.
How do the Italians love aubergines? Let us count the ways… Gennaro Contaldo’s eggplant parmigiana sees mighty aubergines sliced, deep-fried, rolled and stuffed, then baked in tomato sauce topped with mozzarella. It’s one of those dishes that’s perfect for a relaxed, summery family dinner.
The only way to improve on these juicy, anchovy-stuffed olives with their crisp, cheesy breadcrumb coating is to serve them with a homemade negroni. And, if we’re being honest, the only way to improve on that experience is to fly to Italy and order the real thing.
Antonio Carluccio took inspiration from Sicily for this silky caponata. An Italian cousin to ratatouille, this summer stew balances sun-sweetened seasonal vegetables with the sharp flavours of olives and capers. It’s a dish best drizzled with good-quality Italian olive oil and scooped up with crusty bread.
The trick to a successful Tuscan bread salad is top-quality ingredients: use the crustiest, most rustic loaf you can find (not just any old stale bread), fat, ripe tomatoes, deli olives and a really characterful olive oil. The result? A homemade panzanella that’s as refreshing and moreish as the real thing.
Summer isn’t summer in Italy without copious amounts of gelato. Our no-churn version, studded with strawberries and served in slices, is almost as easy as popping out to your local gelateria. For maximum decadence: pop a slice of this gelato into a brioche and eat it for breakfast (really), Sicilian style…
Espresso is a way of life in Italy, so a shot in a dinner-party dessert is par for the course. This creamy coffee pannacotta is so easy it gives you time to make a hazelnut version of the chewy almond macaroons found in Siena. They’re perfect for serving alongside – or with an after-dinner espresso…
Another foolproof, make-ahead Italian dessert that’s refreshing and indulgent in equal measures. An easier version of ice cream, with a really boozy kick from a generous quantity of limoncello, it’s one for the adults at the end of a long, hot summer day. Time to dig out that dusty bottle of limoncello you bought on holiday in Italy…
A cross between a sorbet, a slush puppy and a cocktail, sgroppino is one of those easy desserts that lends you an air of effortless sophistication when you serve it. It’s great for rounding off a dinner party because it slips down so easily that everyone will find room for it.
Finally, is there anything that gets you into a holiday frame of mind faster than this classic Italian aperitif? Mix gin, sweet red vermouth and Campari over ice, garnish with orange peel and serve on a midsummer Friday night with some of the antipasti above to ease yourself into the weekend.
All this Italian summertime inspiration and we’ve barely touched on pasta! Check out our collection of summer pasta recipes for all those long, balmy evenings stretching ahead…