Crispy, crunchy, chilled and with a kaleidoscope of color to charm your guests or simply pretty up your al fresco picnic table, Italian-inspired summer salads are easy and fresh.

Whether green, potato, pasta or fruit, main or side dish, keep it seasonal.

The classic capresi and ceasars are a given. I’ll get right to it and share some of my other favorite Italian summer salad recipes. With a smattering of creative ingredients let’s change the menu up a bit.

A couple of personal notes before we start. When referring to extra virgin olive oils, I use local artisan oils Grove 45 and Regina.

When using cucumber in a recipe, cut off one end and rub the two cut ends together until you create a creamy substance. This is food chemistry in action. This “grandma showed me” step removes the bitterness from the cucumber, a plus when you like to use the skins.

Balsamic vinegar is not wine vinegar. Regardless of what the label says (no current regulations), “balsamic” is not true balsamic if it has ingredients other than cooked grape juice or cooked grape must. You’ll pay more for it, but will only need to use drops for flavor because of the vibrant intensity.

La Panzanella, aka Italian bread salad, is not the nuevo version with hunks of dry croutons. This is the classic version with my twist of rehydrating the bread with tomato juices instead of water.

Diane’s La Panzanella

(Italian Bread & Tomato Salad)

1 lb. loaf day old crusty Italian bread like Pugliese. Sourdough or French won’t work well

6 large very ripe tomatoes

1 cup cucumber

3/4 cup julienne red onion

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar (not wine vinegar)

12 fresh basil leave

1/2 tsp. sea salt

Cut bread into 1 inch cubes, about 8 cups.

Cut tomatoes into bite sized chunks. Place in large bowl. Keep all juices in bowl. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. salt.

Pour olive oil and balsamic over tomatoes. Keep covered at room temperature for at least 90 minutes.

Peel cucumber and seed. Cut into bite sized chunks, set aside.

Julienne slice red onion.

Wash and pat dry basil leaves. Tear into small pieces.

One hour prior to serving, place bread in large bowl. Cover bread with cucumber and basil. Pour tomato mixture over bread and toss to coat well with liquids. Use hands to mix. Cover for 1 hour at room temp so bread can absorb liquids. Plate individually or serve family style.

Serves 8-10

Creamy Lemon Basil Orzo Salad

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 cup diced red onion

1½ cups orzo

1/2 cup white wine

3 cups vegetable broth

1/2 cup fresh peas—cooked al dente

1/2 cup Pecorino cheese, grated

2 Tbsp. fresh basil, finely minced

1 tsp. fine lemon zest

1/4 cup heavy cream

Juice of 1 lemon

Sea salt and black pepper

In fry pan, heat olive oil. Add onion and saute until translucent over medium heat. Add orzo and cook with onion 5 minutes. Add wine and simmer until absorbed.

Add broth slowly. Bring to simmer, turn heat to low, cover and cook for 10 minutes or until liquid is reduced and orzo is tender. Remove from heat.

Stir in all other ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Chill for 1 hour. Serves 8

Watermelon Salad

2 cups 1” cubes seeded cold melon

2 cups coarsely chopped seeded ripe tomatoes

1 medium red onion julienne slice

2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil

1/2 lg. cucumber — peeled, seeded & diced

6 oz. diced Mozzarella Fresca cheese (authentic Buffalo if you can find — try Trader Joe’s)

Dressing:

3 Tbsp. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

1 Tbs. Balsamic (not wine vinegar)

1 Tbs. Amber real maple syrup

Place salad ingredients in large bowl. Prepare dressing and whisk until well blended. Pour dressing over salad, toss well. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Pesto Potato Salad

3 medium to large Yukon gold potatoes

3 whole green onions

1/2 large Cucumber

1 heaping Tbsp. Capers

1/3 cup sliced black olives

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Heaping 1/2 cup pesto

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Boil potatoes in salted water until just fork tender. Allow to cool. Peel and cut into chunky cubes. Place in large bowl.

Peel cucumber and scoop out seeds. Coarsely chop.

Slice green onions(including greens) wafer thin.

Thinly slice olives.

Add green onion, cucumber, olives and capers to potatoes.

Pesto

3 small bunches fresh basil

1 clove minced garlic

pinch Sea salt

1 heaping Tbsp. fresh grated Parmesan cheese

1 heaping Tbsp. fresh grate Pecorino cheese

1 heaping Tbsp. Pine nuts

6 oz. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Wash and dry basil. Discard stems. Combine all ingredients in food processor and blend until creamy. If mixture is too thick add small amount hot water and whip.

Time saver — purchase good commercial pesto.

Add pesto to potato mixture and toss until all ingredients well coated. Salt and pepper to taste. Chill before serving. Serves 4—6

Cetriolo e Pomodoro Insalata

(Cucumber and Tomato Salad)

4 medium ripe tomatoes — cored and chopped

1/2 red onion — julienne

1/2 cucumber — chopped

4 Tbsp. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

1 Tbsp. fresh Oregano — finely chopped

1/2 cup black olives — sliced

1 tsp. lemon fine lemon zest

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients and toss well to coat. Chill for 30 minutes.

Serves 6

Mangia Bene on a summers day.

Diane De Filipi lives in the Napa Valley and leads cooking tours to Italy and Burgundy, France. Visit LetsGoCookItalian.com.

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