Summertime recipes perfect for the Fourth of July

The Fourth of July is a time to celebrate many traditions.

Since childhood, the Fourth of July has always been one of my favorite holidays-right up there with Christmas. I think the Fourth was so special because of the anticipation of the big parade with marching drum corps, crowds of people in a sea of waving flags and the thought of the delicious food my mother would prepare for the relatives who celebrated with us.

The picnic table was set with a red-and-white gingham tablecloth, and tiny American flags were the centerpieces. At the grill, Dad would be cooking his homemade sausage and salmon fillets that Mom insisted be served with peas (she truly believed the old adage of salmon and peas on the Fourth of July). We had the ubiquitous hamburgers and hot dogs, too, because it was tradition.

While Dad had his marching orders, Mom took care of preparing the rest of the picnic foods, including her delicious summer salad made with Dad's homegrown tomatoes that he coaxed into ripeness under covers of plastic sheeting.

Dessert was Mom's luscious, signature chiffon cake with lemon curd filling. As it baked, that cake rose to great heights in her well-worn tube pan, and I always loved how Mom tipped the pan over as it came out of the oven and propped the whole thing over the neck of a wine bottle so the cake would not fall as it cooled. To me, that was sheer bravery!

My job was the strawberries-huge ones that I decked out in white chocolate with blue sugar tips to complement Mom's red, white and blue theme. There were also huge bowls of Bing cherries that we picked ourselves in Lockport, New York, and thick slices of watermelon so we could have the annual pit- and seed-spitting contest.

When everyone gathered at the picnic table, we celebrated America and what it meant to us in a big way; my grandparents became citizens after leaving their native Italy. We said a communal prayer for the gift of freedom before eating and toasting our grandparents.

We played card games, baseball and bocce ball (a salute to the old country), and when the promise of nightfall came, we lit our sparklers and sang "Happy Birthday" to America.

I have kept those childhood traditions alive: making Mom's recipes as well as displaying my flag arrangement with my grandfather's naturalization papers and his passport, issued during the reign of King Victor Emmanuel. For me, these traditions are reminders that the Fourth of July is not just about parades, fun and picnics; it is a day to say thank you for America.

Insalata di Pomodori alla Mamma (Mom's Summer Tomato Salad)

Serves 4

Since his office was close by, Dad always came home for lunch during the week. I guess you could say he was spoiled because my mother was such a fantastic cook. She made everything from scratch-so why should he brown bag it? I always marveled at the fact that with seven children, Mom never tired of the three-meals-a-day routine. Well, maybe she did, but she never said anything. Anyway, when Dad's tomatoes were coming in, she would make him this tomato salad, which I also crave. Not only were the tomatoes the best ever, but the homemade bread she served them with was her signature triumph in the kitchen. It was a great marriage, homemade bread and home-grown tomatoes. You would come home for lunch, too. The salad is best made several hours in advance.

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons red-wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Salt, to taste

4 gorgeous beefsteak-type tomatoes, washed and thinly sliced

Slices of good artisan or homemade bread

1. In a rectangular, glass casserole dish, combine the olive oil, wine vinegar, sugar, parsley, garlic, oregano and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon to mix the ingredients well. Lay the tomatoes over

the dressing in a single layer or just slightly overlapping.

2. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and allow to marinate at room temperature for several hours. Occasionally, spoon the dressing over the tomatoes as they sit.

3. Serve with slices of bread and fare la scarpetta, which means use the bread to soak up the tomato juices. Pure heaven!

Recipe from Ciao Italia Family Classics

Grilled Salmon with Peas

Serves 4

Remember this rule when cooking any fish: allow about 10 minutes of cooking time per inch of thickness. Fire up the grill for salmon with peas!

Olive oil grilling spray

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing

1 large red onion, peeled, halved and thickly sliced

Salt and pepper, to taste

4 salmon steaks, weighing about 6 ounces each

2 large oranges, quartered

2 cups freshly cooked peas

1. Spray the grill grate with olive-oil grilling spray. Preheat a gas or charcoal grill to medium-high heat.

2. Spread 2 tablespoons of olive oil on half of a large sheet of aluminum foil. Add the onions and coat in the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the other half of aluminum foil over the onions and seal the edges. Place the onion package on the grill.

3. Place the salmon and orange wedges on the grill. Lightly brush the salmon and orange wedges with olive oil.

4. Close the grill top and cook 5-7 minutes, turning the food once. The salmon is done when it has nice grill marks, and is moist and pink in the middle.

5. Transfer the salmon and oranges to a platter. Open the aluminum foil and spread the onions over the salmon. Season with salt and pepper. Squeeze some of the orange juice over the salmon. Serve with a side of peas.

Recipe courtesy of

Mom's Chiffon Cake with Lemon Curd

Makes one 10-inch cake

My mother made this cake so often she could do it by heart. A chiffon cake was popular in the '50s and '60s. There isn't any butter in this cake; it uses oil and beaten egg whites with baking powder to provide the leavening. A chiffon cake differs from a sponge cake in that a sponge cake is oil- and butter-free, and relies on egg yolks for fat. Both these cakes are known as foam cakes because of the beaten egg whites that are folded into the batter. Mom's chiffon cake is delicious and light, and doesn't need any other embellishment, but for a special occasion, I like to fill it with a lemon curd. To make the assembly easy, make the curd a couple of days ahead.

2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup vegetable oil

5 eggs, separated

3/4 cup water at room temperature

1 tablespoon vanilla extract or orange liqueur

2 tablespoons grated orange zest

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 cup whipping cream

Lemon Curd

Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the oil, egg yolks, water, vanilla and orange zest. Beat with a whisk or hand-held mixer until smooth.

2. Whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Fold into egg

yolk mixture.

3. Pour into a 10-inch ungreased tube pan and bake for 55 minutes or until a cake skewer inserted in the center of cake comes out clean. The cake should be golden brown and firm to the touch.

4. Immediately remove the cake from the oven and prop upside down, placing the open funnel of the tube pan over the neck of a wine bottle. This allows the cake to cool without collapsing. When the pan is cool to the touch, run a butter knife around the inside edges, remove the cake from the pan and set aside.

5. Whip the cream until it is stiff and fold into the Lemon Curd.

6. Split the cake horizontally into three layers with a serrated knife, and spread some of the curd mixture equally between the layers. Reassemble the cake.

7. Dust the top of the cake with confectioners' sugar and cut with a serrated knife to serve.

Recipes from Ciao Italia Family Classics

Lemon Curd

Makes 13/4 cups

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice (about 4 lemons or 6 large limes)

1 tablespoon grated lemon or lime zest

1 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits

¼ teaspoon salt

4 large eggs, lightly beaten with a fork

1. Combine the lemon or lime juice, zest, sugar, butter and salt in the top of a double boiler. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until the butter melts and the sugar no longer feels gritty in the bottom of the pan. Slowly pour in the eggs, stirring constantly with a spoon or whisk, and cook until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon.

2. Transfer the curd to a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.