Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tuscan Summer Salad-- Panzanella

Panzanella is one of my favorite summer meals. When the tomatoes are perfect, there is nothing better than this salad, and as I just picked our first of the season tomatoes.. this was a fitting dish to celebrate the event.

According to Cooking American, "Panzanella Salad was likely an invention of necessity, because Italian cooks are known to not waste a single clove of garlic or a sprig of parsley". It's origins date back to a time when shepherds used to herd sheep for long distances and had small amounts of food to take. What they usually had with themselves was some loaves of stale bread and the various vegetables they could find along the road to and back from the mountains and grasslands. Panzanella combines these ingredients adding to the flavor, fresh herbs, extra virgin olive oil and a vinegar for a surprisingly tasty dish. Vegetables could include peppers, cucumbers, and onions. Lots of garlic, capers, black olives, and anchovies added to the salad. Chilled, this is such a refreshing addition to the table as a side, or main course. I served this the other night with slices of rosemary and onion tart.

Panzanella Salad is a great way to utilize stale bread and the freshest of garden veggies. The Tuscan cuisine as it is known today is a blend of the two historically distinct kitchens of the rich and the poor. The rich eat lots of meats, vegetables and spices, the poor find tasty ways to utilize left-overs and to use little tricks to make a dish more filling, and not let anything go to waste. I like to wait until a half hour before serving this salad to add more of the reserved stale bread pieces to give it a bit of crunch and then toss it well.

There really are so many variations on the preparation and ingredients of panzanella. Traditionally, capers are used, for example, but I find this too astringent a flavor in this dish. Sometimes I add anchioves to this salad, sometimes not, but I always include olives to my Panzanella salad. Mix it up and you'll see what I mean..this is a wonderful summer dish!


1 loaf of stale crusty unsalted peasant bread.
4 ripe tomatoes, diced or sliced
1 medium cucumber peeled and sliced or diced
fresh lettuce- any kind--I used a mix of greens. Clean it and shred it into bite-size pieces.
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium red onion diced or thinly sliced.
1 handful of basil leaves, roughly cut
1 stem fresh romsemary, leaves minced
pitted black olives *optional
3 TBLS red wine vinegar
3 tsp balsamic vinegar
4 TBLS extra virgin olive oil
sea salt to taste

Break the bread loaf into large cubed pieces and set it in a bowl of water to cover it completely. Don't let it soak too much as it will crumble excessively and be too mushy. Once you realize the bread is all soaked but still quite firm, drain it well and press down with toweling to remove the excess water.

Mix all the ingredients together and half the bread, reserving the remainder and add the extra virgin olive oil, vinegars and salt to taste. After mixing well, add the bread and keep stirring thoroughly.
Refrigerate for at least one hour, then serve immediately. Just before serving I always add the remaining bread crumb to this salad, then drizzle a bit more olive oil give it one last toss before serving. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bread and Butter Pickles

Well after a slow start this season, they are finally here. I'm referring to squash, zucchini and cucumbers! While I just love eating all this fresh abundance from the garden I have a confession to make. I just love eating pickles. especially home-made pickles and to be more precise bread and butter pickles. So early this morning I picked a basket of Kirby cucumbers (better known as pickling cukes) from the garden and knowing full well it was going to be a ninety degree day-- perfect conditions for canning wouldn't you say?

I don't know. I just got the itch to make some good old fashioned bread and butter pickles. with the cukes and some onions. You too can easily make these--don't be intimidated.. just do it. You'll see that flash of nostalgia in their eyes when you serve these to your family from that very first bite and from there on in you'll be their favorite culinary genius or even better bring a jar along to the next cookout you'll be attending. Who needs another pie anyway? I just love the color and crunchy pickly taste in every single bite! The amounts given in this recipe will yield six pint sized jars. I tripled my recipe to give me the six jars, plus one large half gallon jar to bring to a friend.

Bread and Butter Pickles

3 lbs Kirby cukes (known as pickling cucumbers)
1 lb yellow onions. thinly sliced
1/4 cup kosher salt - don't use regular salt or your pickles will look cloudy and not so perdy
1 1/4 cup white vinegar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 TBLS mustard seed
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 tsp celery seed
1 tsp pickling spice
1 inch cinnamon stick ( to be removed at the end of the cook
6-8 allspice berries plus a pinch of ground allspice
6 whole cloves. plus a pinch of ground cloves
1/2 tsp tumeric

Clean the cukes and cut off the ends. Slice them into 1/8th - 1/4 inch slices and place in a large bowl. Slice the onions and also add to the bowl sprinkling pickling salt over all. Toss this mixture up well. Now cover the mix with a clean towel--really. just set the towel on top of all the cukes and onions. Then cover the towel with ice cubes so the whole towel is covered. Put the bowl in your refrigerator for several hours.. (at least four.. overnight even better). Take the bowl out and throw away the ice. Rinse off your cukes and onions and drain the water. Do this a second time now to remove any excess salt.

Now--if you intend to keep your jars of pickles on a shelf. or give them away at Christmas. you'll need to process the jars appropriately. If you're bringing them to a picnic this weekend. move on to the next paragraph now. Clean your jars and lids with soap and water. then. while your cooking the pickles. pour boiling water over the lids in a separate bowl. Most people consider the dishwasher to be enough sterilization for jars. so go ahead and just set the jars aside. ready to fill. If you insist on actual sterilization (I happen to do this with everything I put in a jar). place the jars in boiling water in a big stock pot for 10 minutes. Then. take them out just before you put the pickles in them so they are still hot.

Grab a six quart pot and bring the vinegars, sugar and all the spices to a gentle boil. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the cukes and onions and bring this to a boil again. You'll want to stir frequently. When the mixture starts to boil again, use a slotted spoon to pack just the cukes and onions into your clean jars. Pack them up to an inch from the top of the jars. Then use a ladle to pour the vinegar syrup over the cukes and into the jars, up to half an inch from the tops. Wipe all the rims of the jars clean with a damp paper towel, then take your lids out of the hot water to cover your jars. If you're not keeping these on a shelf, go ahead and let them cool, then put all the jars in the fridge. Viola.. done! I hope you took a minute to get a taste before you sealed your jars!

Okay now, here's the important part when it comes to keeping these bad boys on a shelf. Use the same big stock pot you used to sterilize your jars--the water should be still hot put the rack to your water bath in the bottom of the pot. Please use a rack or some other make shift rack for the bottom of your pot. The jars shouldn't be touching the bottom of your pot. Now once you have boiling water again, put your jars into the pot--you'll want to use strong canning tongs if you have them, and let them boil, covers in tact, for ten minutes. This is known as the boiling water bath in the world of canning. You can do it... trust me. When the ten minutes is up, remove your pot from the heat and doing your very best--safely remove the jars from the pot using your tongs or safe grabbing device. **If you plan to do any more canning, you might pick up one of those canning equipment sets you can get these anywhere from big supermarket chains to Wally World. This'll make things easier in the future.

I hope you love these little babies as much as we do! Enjoy!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

4th of July Pasta Salad

Happy 4th of July to all. Have a fun, safe weekend. Remember why we are celebrating!

I made this pasta salad for a cookout tonight - it's so simple yet wonderfully refreshing to taste. A great dish to serve to the crowds. The addition of the garlic is so subtle, but lifts the salad to another level and with the addition of all the remaining fresh vegetables and herbs, rather than prepackaged ingredients - you can't go wrong. Use your best extra virgin olive oil for this one.

4th of July Pasta Salad

12 ounces small shell pasta
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pint yellow cherry tomatoes
1/2 pint red cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes
1/2 yellow sweet pepper
1/2 cup black olives, pitted & chopped
2 TBLS fresh chives, minced
1/4 cup fresh basil, torn
1 medium cucumber, diced small--leave the skins on
5 TBLS white wine vinegar
10 TBLS extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tsp dry herb blend - oregano, rosemary, summer savory, thyme

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Throw in the pasta and garlic and simmer for about 5 minutes or until al dente, and drain. Save the garlic to one side for the dressing.
Put the pasta in a bowl. Chop the tomatoes, olives, pepper, chives, basil and cucumber into pieces about half the size of the pasta and add to the bowl. Smash the garlic cloves out of their skins and mince. Add the vinegar, olive oil, dry herb blend and seasoning. Drizzle this over the salad, and toss well. I made this pasta salad this morning and refrigerated it until we leave tonite. Perfect for a hot summer's nite. Enjoy!