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How Italians Eat to Beat the Summer Heat

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Summer in Italy means relentless heat and long, fiercely sunny days—especially in busy cities made of layers of stone like Florence or Rome, which tend to heat up like a pizza oven.

Caprese Salad
Caprese Salad

Even those who escape to the sea will find the middle of the day the best time to take a siesta in the cool of a dark apartment, shutters closed to keep out the beating sun. The best time to cook, if you absolutely must turn on the stove (forget the oven!), is late at night when you can stand in front of a boiling pot just to prepare something to eat cold the next day—cooking some farro to turn into a cold salad, for example, or frying zucchini to dress in vinegar and mint leaves for zucchine alla scapece to eat as a delicious cold antipasto like they do in Naples. Or perhaps just bearing the heat for 10 minutes to whip up this creamy chickpea soup, which is even nice at room temperature.

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Zucchine alla Scapece
Zucchine alla Scapece

For other times, no-cook meals are the best. Thin slices of salty Tuscan prosciutto paired with sweet, juicy cantaloupe are often all we eat for lunch. Or a classic Caprese salad, made with bright tomatoes and creamy, plump balls of buffalo mozzarella.

Panzanella salad, made with torn stale bread revived in water, tomatoes, cucumber, and basil, is a favorite summer salad in Tuscany—try a green panzanella without the tomatoes, too, which is closer to the age-old way of preparing it.

Sicilian Green Olive Salad
Sicilian Green Olive Salad

Take it from the Sicilians, who know a thing or two about beating the heat, and try this refreshing and simple salad of squashed green olives, mint, and celery leaves.

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Then, of course, you could consider living off frozen things like lemon granita, somewhere between a sorbet and a slushie, which the Sicilians even love for breakfast, paired with a brioche bun.

Lemon Granita (Granita al Limone)
Lemon Granita (Granita al Limone)

My ultimate pick-me-up in summer, for those times when I am wilting like a daisy in the afternoon heat, is a caffè shakerato: espresso, shaken with sugar and ice until frothy and creamy. It makes for quite a show when the barman prepares one, and it's easy to do at home, too.

Caffè Shakerato
Caffè Shakerato

Emiko, a.k.a. Emiko Davies, is a food writer and cookbook author living in Tuscany, where she writes about (and eats!) regional Italian foods. You can read more of her writing on her blog.

What do you cook when it's too darn hot to cook anything at all? Share your go-tos in the comments.

Tags: Italy, Regional Italian Food, Sicilian, salad, granita, summer