Now, at last the sun is shining and I’m in the mood for my favourite summer suppers, which means I’m looking to Italy.
Italian cooking excels at simple seasonal food that looks and tastes like summer.
Swiss Chard (or Spinach) Torta with Raisins and Pine Nuts
It’s easy to go on for years cooking the same old things. And I’m as guilty as the next person. Only I get restless and curious. A state of mind that finds me flicking through books looking for new recipes.
I found this one in one of my all-time favourite books, Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Classic Cooking. On the face of it a simple torta, in reality a combination of flavours and textures that brings new life to leafy greens. Easy to make in advance and reheat, or eat cold with a salad.
1.2kg Swiss Chard, or Spinach (1.4kg if the chard as meaty stalks)
½ onion, finely chopped
115g parmesan, finely grated
4 tbsp pine nuts
2 lightly beaten eggs
6 tbsp raisins (muscat if you can get them, soaked in enough water to cover)
75g lightly toasted breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 180C/ Gas 4
Chop the chard or spinach into ½cm strips. If using older chard with large stalks remove these first. Blanche the greens in boiling salted water. Drain and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile sauté the onion in a generous quantity of olive oil until golden. Squeeze as much liquid as you can out of the chard, I simply take small handfuls and squeeze the water out. Next chop again into small strips. Don’t use a food processor as this will turn it into a puree.
Add the chard to the onion, turn the heat up and cook until the mixture dries and the chard almost sticks to the pan. Set aside and allow to cool.
Whilst the chard mix is cooling lightly oil a springform baking tin and add half the breadcrumbs. Shake the tin around and to coat the bottom and side of the tin – only about a couple of inches up the sides of the tin.
Add the parmesan, the pine nuts, beaten eggs and raisins, drained of their liquid to the chard mix. Season with salt and black pepper. Combine thoroughly and pour into the tin. Top with the remaining breadcrumbs. You can always use more breadcrumbs if you need to. Drizzle the top lightly with olive oil. So the breadcrumbs toast to a golden crisp. Bake in the oven for 40mins.
Panzanella (Tomato and Bread Salad)
This really, really does taste so good. Every time I make it I wonder why I don’t make it more. Still I do manage to make it maybe 3 or 4 times each summer, usually eaten with BBQ mackerel, or steak or just on its own. If it’s just me to cook for I consider this a meal in itself.
This version is a Jamie Oliver one, you’ll find loads of slight variations out there but this is as simple and straight forward as you’ll get.
200g stale crusty bread (doesn’t have to be stale but it will soak up the juice better if it is)
600g tomatoes, roughly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1 handful small capers, drained
1 small red onion, peeled and very finely sliced
280g jarred red peppers, drained and roughly chopped
8 anchovy fillets in oil, drained and finely sliced (optional)
Red wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Rip the bread into rough 3cm pieces and place on a tray. If it’s not already a bit dry, then set aside for around 30 minutes – this helps to dry it out.
Place the tomatoes in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Rinse the capers, squeezing out any excess liquid and add to the bowl, along with the onion, peppers, ciabatta and anchovies, if using. Toss the mixture together with your hands, then stir in 2 tablespoons of vinegar and about 3 times as much extra virgin olive oil. Taste and add a little more salt, pepper, vinegar or oil, if needed.
Rip the basil leaves, stir together and serve. Delicious with barbecued meats or roast chicken.
Pan Roasted Sea Bream/Bass with Oregano and Lemon
Another simple, classic Marcella recipe. One that you might flick past, thinking it unremarkable. However, you’d be mistaken because contained within this recipe is a simple technique of Italian cooking that will transform the way you cook fish. Pan roasting.
Plus, it’s super quick. All done in about the time it takes to boil up some salad potatoes and throw together a green salad.
1 whole sea bream, or bass per person, or thick fillets (skin on)
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp. veg oil
1 tbsp. fresh oregano, 1/2tsp dried oregano
½ lemon, squeezed
Wash the fish inside and out, then pat dry with a kitchen towel. Mash the garlic with the back of a knife, just enough to split the skin. Remove skin and discard.
Heat the butter and vegetable oil in a sauté pan, or deep frying pan with a lid. Turn the heat to medium-high. Pour the flour onto a flat plate, dredge the fish in the flour and add to pan with the garlic and the oregano. If using fillets put the fish in skin side down.
Brown the fish for 1½ on each side. Be careful not to allow the garlic or herbs to burn. Adjust heat accordingly. Season, add the lemon juice, put the lid on, turn the heat down to medium – medium-low, and cook for about 10 mins depending on how thick the fish is. Turn the fish after 6 minutes.
Serve immediately with the pan juices poured over the fish.
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