Tuesday, July 26, 2011

PANZANELLA (Bread Salad)

There are so many ways to make panzanella.  Sometimes, in summer,  I make a very simple version just by cutting up stale bread into chunks, combining it with a sliced tomato, and mixing it up with a some lemon juice and olive oil.  If I want to get fancy I season it with a little oregano and Parmesan or crumbled feta cheese.  Very simple, and it hits the spot: a garden fresh tomato accompanied with stale bread which takes on a luscious flavor because it soaks up the lemon juice and olive oil.  A more traditional panzanella should include basil, but since I usually make this simple version as a      night-time snack, I don't venture outdoors into the night, to gather basil from my little herb garden.  Why disturb the night spirits lurking outside, the ones cleverly disguised as floating shadows?  The dark hours belong to them.  Of course if they ever knock on my windowpane and want to invite me for a night of spooky frivolity, I will probably say yes.  I'll even share my salad with them, but I'll venture outside by their invitation, only.  Respect.  For the spirits. 

Panzanella or bread salad is a summertime bread salad made popular by the Florentines.  It's true peasant fare, which means it's really good.  It includes chunks of stale bread, tomatoes, onions, lots of basil, cucumbers, and sometimes other fresh vegetables.  The salad is dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, or vinegar.  It's a great choice for dinner on a hot, hot, day. I made some recently, when the temperature was hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  It was a great choice, and here's how I put it together:

Get a small loaf of bread (I used whole wheat), and cut it into cubes.  Sprinkle with olive oil, some oregano, salt and pepper and a little Parmesan cheese.  Mix the bread cubes with your hands, coating them really well with the seasonings.  Arrange them on a cookie sheet and toast them in the oven until they get crisp but not too hard.  Set them aside and let them cool. 

In a large bowl toss the following:  2 large tomatoes, sliced, 1 English cucumber peeled and sliced, half a red onion sliced thinly, half a green pepper sliced, half a yellow pepper sliced, a few green olives cut in half (add some black ones too, if you have them around), 1/4 cup basil leaves coarsely chopped,  2 tablespoons Italian parsley coarsely chopped, and a sprinkling of capers.

Make a dressing by combining 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar, 4 tablespoons of olive oil, some black pepper, a dash of salt, and a pinch of dried oregano.  Pour it over the salad.  Add the reserved bread and toss everything well.  Chill for about an hour, and then serve and enjoy!!!  

Friday, July 8, 2011


Here we are again on French Fridays with Dorie, and this time we are making fillet of fish en papillote.  This can be prepared both with salmon or cod.  I happened to have some cod on hand, so cod it was.  There just aren't enough good things I can say about this recipe.  The fish came out tasting incredibly delicious!  Here is another of Dorie's recipes to treasure and make again and again.

En papillote is a method of cooking by wrapping food in parchment paper or aluminum foil.  It seals in the flavors during the cooking process and renders a more aromatic and tender product.  It's exactly what happened here.  The aroma of the cod was incredible and its texture was very succulent.

I made two fish packets.  To start off, I washed the fish well and patted it dry.  Then I placed it in a bowl and seasoned it with salt and pepper.  I sprinkled the juice of one lemon over the fish and I let it absorb the lemon flavor while I continued preparing.  I made some tomato concassé, which is nothing else than diced tomatoes, peeled and with the seeds removed.  I always do this when I cook with fresh tomatoes because I really dislike finding loose tomato skin or seeds in my food.  They are tough and bitter, so out they go!  I salted the tomatoes and sautéed them in some olive oil.  Then I cut two large pieces of aluminum foil and placed them on the counter.  After that, all that was left to do was a layering of ingredients.  Some basil leaves went on the foil, then the fish, then the tomatoes then some lemon rind.

The layering continued with some chopped scallions, a couple of thinly cut lemon slices, a few dashes of olive oil, a bit more basil and a sprig of fresh thyme. I folded the aluminum foil over the fish and herbs, forming well sealed packets.  The fish cooked in a 400° F  oven for about 12 minutes. 

I opened up the foil packets and a fragrant puff of steam rose up from them, catching me  by surprise. I breathed in the aroma of  basil, thyme and lemon.  

The fish was plated and served right away.  It was seasoned perfectly, and the en papillote method had ensured the cod came out very tender.  How can I not cook this again?

Friday, July 1, 2011


Today on French Fridays with Dorie, we are making a beet salad topped with red onions and a really delicious vinaigrette.  Here's how: 

Get about a pound of beets, clean them well and peel them, then cut them up into quarters.  You want to have bite-size pieces.  Save the stems and leaves and wash those really well too. 

Place the beets in a Dutch oven lined with aluminum foil.  Season them with oregano, garlic powder, salt and pepper and some olive oil.  Top the beets with the reserved leaves and fold the aluminum foil over them. 

No need to discard the beet leaves.  Cover the beets with them during cooking, and include them in your salad. 
Place the lid on the Dutch oven and bake in a 375°F oven for about half an hour to forty minutes.  The beets be soft.  Take them out of the oven, and reserve the leaves.  Make a vinaigrette using Dijon mustard and honey, salt and pepper, dried oregano, white balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  Toss the beets with the dressing, cover them again with the leaves and let them cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  While the beets are cooling, cut half a red onion into thin slices and place it in a bowl filled with cold water and ice cubes.  Store the bowl in the refrigerator along with the beets.  When ready to serve, arrange the beet leaves on a serving platter and top them with the beets and vinaigrette.  Then drain the onion slices, dry them with a paper towel, and spread them over the beets.  Allowing the onions to cool in the ice bath will give them a crunchy taste. 

This was a wonderful beet salad.  The dressing went very well with the beets.  Definitely something to make again and again.  One thing I forgot to do was to read the side notes in Dorie's cookbook, where it was suggested to top the salad with some cheese if desired.  I think that's a great idea.  Next time I make this recipe I will add cheese:  a topping of goat or feta, or maybe some crumbled up Roquefort or Gorgonzola.  If you love beets, this is the way to serve them.  Thanks Dorie!