November 26 – December 2, 2018
Monday: Panzanella Salad
Tuesday: Penne with Sicilian Shepherd’s Sauce (p. 136 – The Italian Country Table)
Wednesday: Parisian Potage with Tomato-Cheese Toasts / Salad
Thursday: Dunnings Meeting – Pink Parkas Dinner
Friday: Country Terrine with Cornichons and Baguette, Herbed Goat Cheese with Endive / Sea Scallops with Cauliflower Purée / Salad / Apple Galette
Saturday: Pizzas with Salad
Sunday: Max’s Allegheny Tavern / Steelers Game at Heinz Field
Before beginning the blog – a small tribute to President George H. W. Bush, good President, brave man, and a true gentleman with gravitas:
I have discovered that when writing a blog, some weeks I just come up dry and have to sit at my desk for long hours (well, at least half-hours) until a coherent idea or some excitement germinates. Other weeks, I have too many things I want to share, and so have trouble bringing the blog to a clear and even mildly interesting point. Last week was one of those.
The Penne was, simply, addictive. But you probably have a bunch of good pasta recipes already. And there are those among you who will consider that my cooking Penne with Sicilian Shepherd’s Sauce to be an unjustifiable cultural appropriation from a bunch of guys who have to work outdoors in all kinds of weather while dealing with elements of organized crime and trying to scrape up the cash to emigrate to America, where they would have been happy to dine on Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. (Is cultural condescension worse than appropriation?)
The Parisian Potage was perfect for a cold night when we needed some comfort food and didn’t feel like going to too much trouble. It is, of course, another cultural appropriation, but the French are proud of their cooking and their cultural influence and I can’t think of a good reason for keeping it from you. As for the sea scallops with puréed cauliflower, they were simply spectacular. They are fit for the dinner party which we hosted for our longtime friend and patient advocate extraordinaire, Ms. Lila D, and Mere and Hoddy. Parts of the dish can be prepared ahead, requiring just a quick sear of the scallops and finishing off an orange-caper sauce just before serving. If you’re like me, you’ll be even more impressed than your guests.
So why am I highlighting a simple bread salad over these dishes? Well, to begin with, it’s not that simple a bread salad. In fact, I have a mind to end this blog here and now. Without having even read the recipe, how could you make such a remark? . . . . . I’ve decided to continue, but only for the sake of those readers who did not sneer at the Panzanella.
The other reason for sharing this with you is a little bow to Dana, who made a Panzanella, among many other dishes, for her Thanksgiving Open House. When, on the Monday after Thanksgiving, having counted on more guests over the weekend than we actually had, I ended up with too much bread, including an entire loaf of Mancini’s ‘Rustic Italian’, my first thought was to send this to those Sicilian Shepherds, but do you know what it costs to ship anything to Sicily? And by then, the bread would be incredibly stale, more useful for pounding in nails than for eating. My second thought – well, really memory – was to remember Dana’s salad.
I cut the bread into cubes to let it dry out a bit, tossed some tomatoes with shallots in lemon juice and a little salt*, and ransacked the pantry and refrigerator, finding some cucumbers, a block of cheese, a bit of good salami, some good Virginia ham and a few other odds and ends. We ended up with a great Monday night dinner – not meatless, admittedly, but more bread and vegetables than anything else. You’ll find the full recipe below. If all you have is fresh bread, you still have no excuse for not making this – just cut it up and let it sit in the air for a few hours or, if you’re in more of a hurry, give it a bit of toasting in the oven.
Finally: here’s a shout out to Katie, recuperating from knee-replacement surgery – the pink parkas await you on the slopes in 2019
Panzanella – Bread Salad with meat, cheese and vegetables
Timing: 10 minutes to assemble the salad
30 minutes to an hour to marinate the tomatoes
Note: The quantities below make a large salad – enough for up to 6 people for dinner or 12 as a side dish. Reduce or increase quantities as required.
Loaf of stale crusty bread cut or torn into crouton-size bits. (As I mentioned in the blog, you can ‘stale’ fresh bread but cutting it into cubes and letting it sit in the air for a day, or, more quickly, by toasting it in a low oven.)
A combination of oil and wine vinegar (1 ½ or 2 to 1; oil to vinegar) in whatever quantity your volume of bread, meat, cheese and vegetables seems to require. Note: Less is more here – start with a little dressing and add more, if needed.
English cucumber halved and sliced into half-moons
4 tomatoes, chopped. NOTE: Unless you can get good tomatoes in winter – I can’t – buy the ripest medium tomatoes you can, core them, cut them into wedges and toss them with lemon juice, salt and shallots. Let them marinate for up to an hour and you will have tomatoes you can use proudly in this or any other salad.
Red Onion, halved and thinly sliced.
A reasonable amount (3 ounces? or more) of chorizo or other flavorful salumi cut into bite-sized pieces.
A reasonable amount of good ham (1 ounce?), cut into bite-sized pieces.
A goodly amount of feta, cheddar, or whatever cheese you prefer. You want something flavorful and a bit salty – mozzarella won’t work. Maybe 6-8 ounces of cheese.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Other ingredients: You can use radishes, celery, pears, apples, etc. Use up whatever has been sitting around that won’t last but still tastes good.
Assemble the Salad:
First, chop and marinate the tomatoes – see instruction in the ingredient list, above.
Combine the croutons, cucumber, tomatoes, Chorizo, ham, whatever other vegetables or fruits you are using, and red onion in a large bowl and toss.
Combine the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and whisk together or shake in a sealed jar. Pour some of the dressing over the salad and toss – taste to see if it needs more dressing. Serve.