Summer Italian: Salads to celebrate the season

During the holiday of Ferragosto in the middle of August, Italians feast buffet-style with light dishes using seasonal ingredients.

The month of August, when “almost everyone takes a vacation,” is the ­pinnacle of summer in Italy, said the staff of the Silver Spoon Kitchen in Recipes From an Italian Summer (Phaidon). The highlight of the month comes on Aug. 15, when Ferragosto, a national holiday, is celebrated with a feast full of “light, often cold, dishes, in which fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients are artfully combined to create a meal that is both flavorful and colorful.”

On Ferragosto, food is typically served buffet-style, with dishes organized in order from lightest to heaviest, but the offerings can also be tossed into an appetizing mélange “showing the delicious seasonal ingredients to best advantage.” Salads, in particular, can be served as a light accompaniment, or as a main dish when combined with “more substantial ingredients such as meat or legumes and potatoes.”

While salads are straightforward to ­prepare, we insist on a few rules: Use extra-virgin olive oil and “good quality vinegar,” and dress them right before serving, making sure not to overdress. Too much “can easily mask the other flavors.”

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Recipes of the week

Sunflower Petal Salad

1 unsprayed sunflower

7 oz small-leafed lettuce, such as Boston, separated into leaves

2¾ cups thinly sliced white mushrooms

Olive oil, to taste

White-wine vinegar, to taste


Pull petals from sunflower, then rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Put petals, lettuce, and mushrooms into salad bowl. Whisk together oil and vinegar in a bowl, season with salt, and pour dressing over salad. Toss lightly and serve. Serves 4.

Tomato Tartare With Basil

Primo sale is a soft cheese and can be replaced with buffalo mozzarella.

16 cherry tomatoes, seeded and diced

11 oz primo sale, diced

16 black olives, pitted

1 bunch basil, shredded

Olive oil, for drizzling


Put tomatoes into a colander, sprinkle with salt, and drain for 30 minutes. Drain well; transfer to large salad bowl; add cheese, olives, and basil leaves; drizzle generously with olive oil; season with salt. Mix carefully and keep cool until ready to serve. Serves 4.

Baby Zucchini Salad

6 baby zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise

2 oz Parmesan cheese, shaved

1 pinch dried oregano

3 tbsp olive oil

2 tomatoes, peeled and sliced

Salt and pepper

Put zucchini in salad bowl; add Parmesan, oregano, and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well and set aside in cool place for at least 30 minutes to let flavors mingle. Add tomatoes just before serving.

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