When it’s almost too hot to cook

July 27, 2019

I have learnt to embrace the weather for whatever it is in all its extremes: hot, cold, rainy and atmospheric. If there is a right outfit for every weather type then there must be suitable food for every weather condition.

Summer in Rome this year has been extremely hot and humid, some would call it unbearable.
The pavements along narrow and long streets are kept busy only on one side, the one that provides the shelter in the form of shade.

I have always been grateful for my air conditioning unit my the kitchen. I could manage in the past without putting it on while having my morning coffee and watching the news. But that has suddenly changed, that sweet quiet moment of a few minutes for my self needs some assistance, cold air.

I know that it is temporary and we will be remembering and talking about this summer in the next few months to come. We will be missing having an iced coffee or crema di caffe in our favourite coffee bars. I like to make an iced coffee at home too. I use moka to make my coffee, I wait until it cools down, stir in some sugar and keep it in the fridge until I fancy sipping it poured over some ice. It is a drink absolutely to die for especially now during the unbearable heat, that you eventually get used to and learn to love with time. With my morning coffee I tend to have a rather small breakfast, not because we live in Italy now but I have almost always had it that way. I enjoy a bigger meal later on in a day. The locals would just have a cornetto alla crema, al cioccolato or just vuoto, or a Roman speciality maritozzo (a small bun, cut lengthways and filled with whipped cream) and a coffee. When you ask for a coffee in Italy, you will be automatically presented with an espresso.

Depending on the day and how we start it, we either have small breakfast on the way while running some errands or we have it at home. I like to get up early and watch the city wake up, then I tend to bring home still warm cornetti or pizza bianca from a local bakery. This pizza bianca cut in half and filled with figs (just squashed not sliced) was given to me a few years ago by Domenico, my local fruit vendor that I visit almost every day. That is what he had for breakfast. So did I. A Roman treat that you can only have when the figs are at their best, ripe and sweet almost like honey. Since then, during summer, I occasionally go for a stroll to search for some lovely pizza bianca (looks almost like focaccia but the two are not the same) and figs. You have to be quick as they sell out fairly fast. This traditional Roman breakfast sadly can’t be found on the menu anymore. Personally I prefer its most simple variation, just bread (pizza bianca) and figs (and a coffee of course) but you can have it with prosciutto crudo (cured ham) for a greater complexity of the flavours and an extra ingredient.

During this period I set ou for my grocery shopping earlier than usual while hoping to be able to walk in still fairly moderate temperatures. There are days however, that prove to be an exception to that rule. Your appetite changes and when I ask myself a question what to make I start digging out my old time favourite recipes for cold food and for those most suitable for the current weather.

I would always make a cold soup, a Spanish classic gazpacho or cold beetroot soup blended with some feta cheese, served with Granny Smith apple as a garnish. We particularly enjoy a lesser known Spanish cold almond soup, chilled in the fridge with some sweet white grapes. Panzanella is not only a fantastic way of using stale bread but also a lovely salad that you can make in advance, chill it in the fridge and serve it when you are ready. We had already fallen in love with the fresh and flavoursome goat’s cheese, peach and orange blossom water salad while we lived in London. All the ingredients can be easily found here and once the peach season starts I prepare it very often.

When I make a large batch of fresh basil pesto (it can be safely stored in a fridge) I like to use it not only with pasta but to dab it on a potato and green bean salad. Recently I used the left over pesto as part of a dressing for a boiled octopus, potato, tomato and celery platter.

There is a bit of cooking involved with the gnocchi, although once you have learned how to make them it doesn’t seem that complicated or time consuming at all. My summer proposition is to have them with gently fried courgettes, basil and crème fraîche. What a dreamy combination.

A whole fish like sea bass or bream baked in salt often graces our table. I want a minimum of work involved so I also bake a whole turbot or any other fish with some white wine, fresh herbs and lovely sweet tomatoes. Just a few ingredients but you will end up with such a rewarding dish. The only thing left to do is to neatly separate the tender flesh and present it beautifully on a plate.

Chicken or veal escalopes with lemon and parsley are always present during summer. They take almost no time to make, and if you crave for a crunchy finish, just dust them moments before frying with flour, roll in a beaten egg and then bread crumbs and let them golden in an awaiting hot pan and foaming butter.

I have mentioned on numerous occasions how much I like to make food that I can prepare in advance and just heat it up when I need it. A meat ragù is one of these. All I need for my meal is to boil some egg pasta, toss it with the meat sauce and scatter some grated cheese on top. To make my summer ragú I change the herb selection. I am particularly careful with sage (to me it is more suitable during colder months with a darker and richer ragù). I use some fresh rosemary, oregano and some basil towards the end of cooking.

There is nothing more refreshing on a hot day than a bowl of cold fruit. I make la macedonia very frequently and my selection of fruit will depend on what is available in the market.

La macedonia is a very lovely way of using fresh ingredients. The fruit of your choice (cut into bite size pieces) is drenched in a mixture of water, lemon or orange juice with a small amount of sugar and kept in the fridge. It stays fresh for 2-3 days and is meant to be served cold.

A citrus panna cotta is one of our latest favourites. I have been inspired with the flavours of Sicily, the use of citrus fruit for cooking in particular and I have brought certain ideas into my kitchen.

Of course we can’t miss out on an ice cream. We are spoiled for choice in Rome but this particular white chocolate and saffron ice cream I make at home (without an ice cream maker).

So here they are, some of my recipes to try when it’s almost too hot to cook, I hope you enjoy them.


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