SARONNO, Italy –There is a delicious stillness that settles on Saronno in the summer. Life is easy. People move a little slower, you see fewer cars on the streets and a lot more bicycles. In the cool of the evening couples go out for a walk, and stop for an ice cream. There is always lines at the gelelaterias and at the outdoor movies, where you can sit under the stars, eat your ice cream and catch any breeze that happens to pass your way.
What Saronno isn't in the summer is a place that encourages long sojourns in the kitchen. But to paraphrase my Grandmother, heat or no heat, you still have to eat. So before my friend George disappears on vacation, I invited him over for lunch. And he’s coming. Tomorrow.
Because it is so hot I decided to put together a menu that doesn't require any last minute cooking. Instead of the usual first course of pasta, I thought I would make a Tortino Tatin of summer vegetables. Basically a it’s a pie crust filled with slices of tomato, zucchini and eggplant on a pie crust. Sometimes I put strips of mild cheese on top of the vegetables and pop it under the broiler until the cheese melts, but it’s too hot to even think about doing that.
The main course will be grilled chicken which I can do on top of the stove first thing in the morning and serve at room temperature with wedges of lemon. I’ll cut a whole chicken down the back and open it up so it lays flat on the grill. It won’t require any type of oil so it’s not only quick and easy, it’s low-cal too. To boost the flavor a little I’ll cut some fresh rosemary and slide it up under the skin on the chicken breast. That’s all it should need.
To go with the chicken I’m leaning toward rice salad because I can cook the rice this morning and put the salad together later today or even tomorrow. Then all I have to do is chop the celery, cucumbers and tomatoes, defrost a handful of frozen peas, if I have any boiled ham left over from today’s lunch I’ll add some of that along with a few capers, a teaspoon of green peppercorns, some dried marjoram and a little fennel seed.
To make the Tortino you’ll need an eggplant, a large, ripe tomato and a medium size zucchini. Wash and cut the eggplant into slices, put it in a colander and sprinkle it with kosher salt. Let it sit for about an hour so the eggplant loses some of its moisture. Then rinse the eggplant slices under running water and dry them.
Heat about one tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and lightly cook the eggplant slices and sliced zucchini. Line a pie plate with pie crust dough and layer the eggplant and zucchini slices, alternating with the slices of tomato. Sprinkle with fresh thyme. Bake in a moderate oven (350°F) for about 25 minutes. You can serve it immediately or let it cool and serve it at room temperature, which is what I am going to do. I’ll put the slices of mozzarella on it just before I serve it.
Desert will be a simple lemon sorbetto and maybe slices of watermelon. Lemon sorbetto is easy to make but buying it in the grocery store is even easier – and just as good. If the watermelon turns out to be too much to carry, I’ll pick up some nut cookies at the Lazaroni store across the street. They are very good and will be perfect with the lemon sorbetto.
And a frosty pitcher of lemonade should be just the right thing to go along with this summery lunch, don't you think?