Summer in Manhattan always feels a little too tight and closed in, and if that isn’t irritating enough, just about everyone I know feels too heavy then too. So I’ve dedicated my summer Web site to diet menus. They’re admittedly not the hardest thing to pull off in July and August, when the greenmarkets are bursting with tomatoes, herbs, fresh hot chilies, and even edible flowers, but still, when it comes to reducing, everyone can use a little help.Three main ingredients let me produce the best summer cooking I possibly can, diet or not: my local greenmarket, an excellent fish seller, and first-rate extra-virgin olive oil.
The Union Square Greenmarket is so important to me I actually don’t think I’d be able to live in Manhattan without it. Phil Karlin of P.E.& D.D. Seafood brings fresh fish to the Union Square market from Riverhead, Long Island, three times a week, and I’ve become so spoiled by the utter freshness of his seasonal catch that shopping for fish even at fancy places like Balducci’s makes me critical. He offers a limited local selection, with no salmon (which is actually a relief), but everything he has was caught the night before or that morning, so it’s almost as fresh as the fish I’ve eaten in seaside restaurants on Mondello beach in Sicily, where you can watch the fisherman dock and haul the catch up onto the shore and straight into the restaurant kitchen.
I always treat myself to a bottle of really fine olive oil in the summer, because I use so much of it raw, drizzled over salads and vegetables and as a last-minute condiment for grilled meat and fish. Ravida, the beautiful estate-bottled oil from the southern coast of Sicily, still remains my favorite Southern oil. I try to take advantage of summer fruit as much as possible, and I’ve included a few fruit desserts flavored in the wine-and-sugar mode. The variations on fruit mixed with wine, herbs or spices, and a sweetener are pretty much endless, and with them you don’t have to sweat over a hot oven to turn out a light, first-rate dessert.
I’ve concentrated on vegetable and protein menus because I feel if I fill up on enough real food I’ll stand a better chance of not uncontrollably stuffing myself with bread and heavy desserts, but you’ll notice by glancing at my recipes that I haven’t cut back considerably on the amount of olive oil I use. You may if you like, but I feel that even though olive oil is a fat it’s a healthy fat, and it adds so much flavor to Italian food I consider it my duty as an Italian-American to use as much as I need to get the culinary results I’m after (you’ll also notice there is not a teaspoon of butter in any of these recipes). I stand by my philosophy that if you cut back on starch and don’t eat gallons of ice cream, you can have all the olive oil you desire. If you want to keep the olive oil moving through your body, wash it down with a glass of good wine. If you, like me, are a dedicated red-wine fan who isn’t completely comfortable switching over to white in hot weather, try a Sicilian Cerasuolo di Vittoria; it’s a light, cherry-hinted red that’s best very slightly chilled, and it’s excellent with grilled fish. Valle dell’Acate is a good producer of it.
Happy summer cooking to you.