And suddenly it is summer. Normally I spend weeks standing on the shoreline of the hottest season, reluctant to change my clothes, habits or the arrangement of things. And then, when I do, I am the person shuffling in, a bare toe here or shaved leg there, wiping six months of dust from the outside chairs and pulling the thermal bag from under the bed, looking at a dress. It is usually early July by the time I locate my sunglasses, or simply give up looking and buy another pair.
But this year, encouraged by my friend Alice and her suggestion of socially distanced time at the sea just north of Rome, I flung myself into the hottest season. We were like pale limbs just out of plaster, or animals blinking on their exit from a dark hibernation cave. After months contained in small spaces in a sleeping city, there was no time to hover over anything – clothes, inhibition, the shoreline – we were in, submerged in the inky cool of the Tyrrhenian sea, flapping and flailing like liberated animals, our skin on cold fire. Cold currents dance and tug in the stretch of coast between Santa Severa and Santa Marinella, and on good days a land breeze blows the water clear enough to see the pebbles wink and sea urchins spike from the seabed. Out of the sea we lay ourselves out on the hot pebbles to dry, bubbles of families under umbrellas dotted the beach doing much the same thing, the unselfconscious ease of a free pebble beach even more apparent after quarantena.
We fling ourselves into summer eating, too. Full commitment to ice-creams from cold freezer chests, and watermelon, tomatoes with plaits of mozzarella, vegetables criss-crossed with char lines, oily fish or breadcrumbed chicken pressed between white rolls, and rice and pasta salads, about which I have no time for disdain. Having said that, I will happily debate or hear a strong opinion about a rice or pasta salad, especially if the recipe and story has a childhood or relative dragged into it, even more so if the story isn’t a saccharine one. The same with bean salad: I want to know what sort of beans your uncle used, if your grandma used her own extra-virgin olive oil or a squeeze of mayonnaise from a tube, how your neighbour nearly choked to death on a green bean.
It is an unspoken rule of summer eating that it takes longer for people to gather and get to the table. Someone is in the shower, someone else has gone to buy a bag of ice because someone else forgot to refill the ice trays in the freezer and no one is doing anything before a gin and tonic. Fortunately, much summer food knows this, and will not only wait; in some cases, it improves. The chickpea, aubergine and couscous dish from two weeks ago, or the potato and roast pepper insalata palermitana from last year and this bean salad are all good examples of dishes that benefit from sitting 30 minutes, for two hours (although maybe not in full glare) while the ice is put in glasses.
Prep 10 min
Cook 25 min
300g green beans
300g cooked cannellini beans
300g cooked borlotti beans
2 ripe tomatoes
1 small red onion
A small bunch of parsley
A handful of basil leaves
A sprig of mint
Red wine vinegar
Tail the beans and cook in plenty of well-salted boiling water until tender (timing will depend on size and age). Drain and rinse with cold water and then chop the beans into lengths you like.
If you want, peel the tomatoes by plunging them in boiling water for 60 seconds and then cold water, at which point the skins should slip off. Chop the tomatoes into small dice, discarding any hards bits and pushing away the seeds.
Peel, halve and very finely slice the onion. If it is strongly flavoured, soak it in a half water, half vinegar mixture for 10 minutes, then drain. Mince the herbs.
Put the green beans and all the other ingredients in a bowl, add six tablespoons of olive oil, one tablespoon of red wine vinegar and a pinch of salt and toss. Leave to sit for 10-20 minutes, toss again and serve.