These dishes inspired by the Italian summer — Pollo Al Burro, Spice-Crusted Lamb with Basil, and Saltimbocca a la Romana — are simple to make and bursting with flavour
Some of my best culinary experiences have come from my travels in Italy and it’s hard not to be inspired by a nation that is so passionate about its regional recipes and produce. With summer sunshine just around the corner, I want to arm you with a selection of simple recipes that are ideal for al fresco eating inspired by the Italian summer.
While spice-crusted lamb cooked until crisp and juicy may not be in any way traditionally Italian, the simple white bean salad it’s served alongside instantly evokes the flavours of Italian summer, heady with sweet tomatoes and fresh basil leaves. It’s a truly simple summer dish that takes minutes to make and delivers a really flavourful finish.
I have to confess that the recipe here for florentine-style chicken is a total reimagining of the original recipe that stems from Elizabeth David’s Italian Food cookbook published in 1954, where chicken is dredged in flour and pan fried with plenty of butter and lemon juice. Here, the chicken is cooked in a generous amount of butter, but is given its sweetness and acidity from cherry tomatoes and served with plenty of basil and freshly cooked linguine. Perhaps a different dish altogether, but certainly a delicious one!
Possibly the only truly authentic Italian recipe I share with you this week is Saltimbocca a la Romana. It was one of the first recipes I learned how to cook while filming a television show called Grandma’s Boy back in 2013.
Our first stop was a machete-wielding grandmother, who proceeded to hack apart a chicken for a Roman-style stew, before showing me how to daintily wrap thinly bashed pieces of veal with prosciutto. It remains one of my favourite filming experiences and probably one of the best meals I’ve eaten in Italy.
The recipe, like many wonderful Italian dishes, is laughably simple but highly reliant on the very best produce and ingredients. If I’m cooking Italian, this always features, either as a main dish or with a selection of smaller dishes as part of a bigger feast. Plenty of inspiration here to channel your inner nonna!
Pollo Al Burro (Florentine Butter Chicken with Burst Cherry Tomatoes & Basil)
Serves: 4 Cook time: 20 minutes
This is a great midweek meal, full of flavour. You could alternatively serve this with a lovely sourdough bread to mop up that delicious sauce!
2-3 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp butter
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Pinch of chilli flakes
250g cherry tomatoes
50g plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
1 free-range egg, beaten
4 skinless chicken breasts, flattened slightly with a rolling pin
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
125g ball buffalo mozzarella, torn
Handful basil leaves
300g freshly cooked linguine
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat the oil and 2 tbsp of the butter in a frying pan over a high heat. Add the thyme, chilli flakes, tomatoes and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook for about 5-6 minutes, until the tomatoes begin to soften but are still holding their shape. Tip into a bowl.
2. Put the egg and flour separately into two shallow bowls. Dip the chicken first in egg, then in the seasoned flour. Heat 1 tbsp butter in the pan and when foaming, fry the chicken for 3-4 minutes on each side, basting the chicken in the browned butter.
3. Return the tomatoes to the pan with the remaining butter and garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and serve to plates. Add the linguine to the pan to absorb the flavours for a minute or so.
4. Serve the linguine and tomatoes to your plates with the chicken, scattered with torn mozzarella and basil.
Serves: 4 Time: 20 mins
The Italian nonna who taught me to make this saltimbocca served hers with sautéed green beans and tomatoes — I’ve been making it the same way ever since. Traditionally made with veal cutlets, I’ve used pork fillet because it’s easier to buy, but you could also use chicken if you wanted to.
Ingredients for the pork
2 tbsp olive oil
1 pork fillet
12 sage leaves
12 slices prosciutto
25g plain flour
Sea salt and black pepper
For the green beans
2 gloves garlic, minced
150g cherry tomatoes, halved
250g French beans
50ml white wine
1. Divide the pork into 12 thin, even slices, cutting them from the pork fillet on the diagonal. Lay each slice flat on a chopping board and gently bash with a meat hammer or rolling pin until approximately 5mm in thickness. Top each slice with a sage leaf, season with salt and black pepper and wrap with a slice of prosciutto.
2. Place the flour in a wide dish and dredge each slice until completely coated, patting off any excess.
3. Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat and add 1 tbsp oil. Cook the slices in batches using extra oil as needed, ensuring not to overcrowd the pan, for 2 minutes on each side or until the pork has cooked through and the prosciutto becomes crispy. Set aside and keep warm.
4. Fry the garlic in the pan for 1-2 minutes before adding the cherry tomatoes.
Cook for a further 2 minutes, add the French beans and white wine and cook for 4-5 minutes until the beans are tender.
5. Serve slices of the saltimbocca with the green beans and tuck in.
Serves: 4 Time: 30 mins
Warm and fragrant and full of the taste of an Italian summer, you could also make this dish with puy lentils or chickpeas instead of beans.
2 x 150g lamb neck fillets
1 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tsp fennel seeds
Good pinch of dried chilli flakes
2 tbsp olive oil
500g ripe vine tomatoes, cut into thin wedges
1 x 400g tin white beans (such as cannellini or butter beans), drained and rinsed
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Squeeze of lemon juice
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Handful of fresh basil leaves
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C Fan.
2. Put the neck fillets into a dish. Roughly crush the coriander and fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar, then mix with the chilli flakes and half the oil. Press all over the lamb, season well and set aside for 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, put the tomatoes and beans on a serving platter. Mix the vinegar and lemon juice with some seasoning, then whisk in the extra-virgin olive oil; pour this over the tomatoes and beans.
4. Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in an ovenproof frying pan and fry the spiced lamb on all sides until sealed and golden all over. Transfer to the oven and cook for 8–10 minutes (the lamb should still be pink in the middle). Rest for 5 minutes, then slice and gently toss through the beans and tomato salad. Scatter with the basil leaves and serve.