After a summer spent feeding on fruit, mozzarella and vine ripened tomatoes, September finds Italians rudely torn from their vacation spots and tossed back into more rigid reality. Back-to-school and office rhythms dictate the pace as summer snacking is replaced by more substantial eating routines. For months I was content eating only large slices of watermelon on the beach. Now, the calendar is beginning to change all that.
Thankfully, Italy's Indian summer tendencies keep hot-weather menus thriving. Light dishes are easy on digestion and provide perfect alimentary support for students and adults getting back into post-vacation work routines.
In fact, my new eating regimen depends on these dishes and I'll rotate my menu around them while awaiting the late autumn arrival of chunky soups, mushrooms, roots and cruciferous greens.
Here are a few of my favorite go-to recipes for the intermediate season. They'll keep your summer body fed and healthy well into autumn.
— Buckwheat salad with tomatoes, capers and fresh basil Lemon zest and a thread of raw olive oil are the only dressing required for this lean and nutritious dish. I was recently introduced to grano saraceno by a dear friend and can no longer do without it. Inexpensive buckwheat seeds, also called groats, are packed with nutrients and antioxidants. Not properly a grain, buckwheat is gluten-free and safe for those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivities, and high in both protein and fiber. It supports heart health and can help prevent diabetes and digestive disorders.
Simply boil the groats in salted water as you would pasta, drain and add to chopped tomatoes, rinsed capers, fresh basil and slivered red onions if you like. Drizzle a thread of good quality extra virgin olive oil; adjust salt and season with lemon zest and some of the juice. Voilà, lunch.
— Dairy-free tzatziki dip My sister has turned to vegan eating and has become my healthy eating guru. She taught me this amazing yoghurt-less recipe when we found out my cholesterol levels no longer allowed me to eat dairy on a daily basis. She instructed me to soak raw cashew nuts in water overnight and blend them with a clove of garlic, dill, lemon juice and chopped cucumbers.
The result is surprisingly tzatziki-tasting, minus the dairy. We enjoy snacking on this with Swedish crackers in the middle of the afternoon, when stomachs grumble.
Ginger sesame chicken breasts This is my son's current favorite dish. I serve it with whole grain rice and steamed seasonal vegetables. I have my butcher slice chicken breasts very thinly, and trim away all the fat. I brine the slices in a Ziploc bag adding a half-cup of low-salt soy sauce, a crushed garlic clove, a 2-inch stub of peeled ginger root, a dash of sesame oil and some toasted sesame seeds. I let the chicken sit in this marinade for about 1 hour, letting the meat soak up the flavor while tenderizing.
A few minutes before serving I heat a non-stick pan and sizzle the chicken cutlets, turning them to cook evenly on both sides. The delicious meat stays moist and flavorful. The only problem is that it disappears from our plates very quickly!
— Baked salmon with pesto and pine nuts I stopped buying salmon after watching an unsettling documentary on fish farms two years ago. But I love the flavor of the Omega-3 rich oily fish, so I turn to a trusted smoker in Ladispoli who sources wild-caught Alaskan salmon for its cold-smoked products. When my local fishmonger occasionally purchases the same Arctic catch, I buy boneless fillets in bulk, freeze them and make my signature baked salmon dish.
I place the salmon fillets in a pan skin side down and season them lightly with sea salt and pepper. These bake in a 400F oven until the flesh flakes easily with a fork (about 20 minutes). To obtain a chunky pesto sauce, I blend a large bunch of fresh basil, a handful of pine nuts, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 30 grams (about 1 oz.) of Pecorino Romano and a clove of garlic. I serve the salmon drizzled with the pesto and garnished with more whole pine nuts.
— Diet piña colada Why go to the gelateria if you can opt for a homemade fruit-packed smoothie? When kids need a pick-me-up in the stalest homework moment, chop fruit and freeze it so that you simply have to throw it in the blender and don't need to add ice.
For a boost of energy — and when I need to feel like I'm still on vacation — I make lean piña colada smoothies by blending a can of coconut milk, a banana, a cup of frozen pineapple and half-cup of frozen mango. Add straws and enjoy!