Category Archives: BREADS

END OF SUMMER PANZANELLA STYLE SALAD

IMG_1707The last weeks of August are when tomatoes are at their peak in my region.  Jersey Tomatoes are prized for their full rich flavor after vine ripening and I happen to live in Jersey, so…there you go.  Our tomatoes are fantastic.  Truth be told I though our Staten Island, NYC tomatoes were fantastic too.  Ask my late father or my late Uncle Tony Scaramuzzi, two of Staten Island’s leading ItalianAmerican authorities and growers of tomatoes in their large home gardens.  They carried on that rivalry for years. They both grew amazing tomatoes. But I’m in Jersey where there’s a religion that worships the warm bright red orbs, big and small and this is the time of the year for them to be at their very best.  You can make sauces from them, oh yes, amazing pasta sauces but really…I’m way more interested in eating the raw product.  This is the only time of the year they will be this good.  August.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that we probably eat them raw at least once a day during the season.  While I don’t grow my own our farm markets are bulging at the seams with local tomatoes of all different varieties and your friends and neighbors who grow them in their home gardens are very generous with their bags of tomatoes as gifts for you.  I have such a neighbor.  Thanks Mike!  When I walked into the kitchen earlier today the aroma of the tomatoes I picked in his garden was floating somewhere in the air.IMG_1694That’s when I knew it’s time for ……..PANZANELLA.  Ok, Panzanella, what is it?  Well let’s start with what it’s not.  It’s not made with toasted bread.  The bread has to get stale.That means you can’t force it.  STALE. Let it sit in a paper bag for 2 days after you buy it, and buy brick oven Italian bread, no seeds, if possible.  The  toasted bread is a crouton, delicious, but not panzanella. One problem in being authentic to the Tuscan Panzanella is the bread itself. In Tuscany the bread is salt-less.  NO SALT.   When I went to Italy the first time in 1986, my maternal grandmother, a native of Avellino told me “be careful when you travel up North (in Italy)….senza sale..o’pane senza sale..no good.”  LOL.  She was right. Saltless bread must be one of those “acquired” tastes. If all the bread you’ve eaten all your life contains salt, it’s a strange taste without it.  So unless you are baking your own bread chances of finding good Italian saltless bread is going to be a problem. Even in Italy, outside of Tuscany, they use their local breads containing salt for this dish.  This salad is a balance of bits of only a few things.  There’s a small amount of red wine vinegar that helps to soften and flavor the bread and that allows the tomatoes full flavor to shine through. Imagine, I can wax poetically over a salad of stale bread and tomatoes.  If you notice in my title to this blogpost I say Panzanella “STYLE”…that’s like a get out of jail card for me.  It allows me to be close to what’s thought of as the closest to the original without misnaming the dish.  My panzanella I made tonight contains no Cucumber. Why?  I love cucumbers.  One of my daughters loves cucumbers.  My wife?  Hates them (so misguided isn’t she?). So, since one cooks to make the diners happy I always make my version of Panzanella without cucumber.  Feel free to add it, or, stick with my Panzanella STYLE.  And put down that bottle of Balsamic. It’s not , never now or ever..a substitute for Red Wine Vinegar which is what you use in this dish.  Italy generally is fiercely regional.  Balsamic is a traditional aged product of Emilia-Romagna.  Panzanella is generally a Tuscan dish.  Not the same region so pay attention here!! Alright, enough of my lecturing on this salad..let’s make it now.

TIME: 2 hours                                             SERVES: 4 people

4 thick slices of STALE (remember, Stale, plan ahead her, this isn’t a salad with seasoned croutons which is what “toasting ” them in the oven would do.  coarsely chopped

3 large tomatoes, JERSEY VINE RIPENED if possible..if not, find good local homegrown or farm market tomatoes.  Dice them and leave them in a bowl.

1 SMALL RED ONION, DICED

4 BASIL LEAVES

(1 PEELED AND THIN SLICED CUCUMBER IF USING)

SEA SALT

3 TBS. EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

2 TBS RED WINE VINEGAR

WATER

1 TSP SEA SALT

FRESH GROUND BLACK PEPPER

Soak the bread in about 1/8 cup of water for 15 minutes, then gently squeeze out the water. Then season with 1/2 tsp Sea salt, 1/2 tsp Black pepper, 2 tbs, Red Wine Vinegar, blend, then add 2 tbs. of the Extra Virgin Olive oil. Let this sit for 15 minutes.  Now add all the other ingredients:IMG_1697Then mix gently with…YOUR HANDS.  It’s how it’s done.  There are 2 methods, mine and then everyone elses, lol.  In Tuscany the bread is mixed by hand FIRST and then the other ingredients blended in.  I mix it all together, let it sit for 1/2 hour. Then I mix it again making sure the bread is well soaked.  Let it sit for 1/2 hour again, check for seasoning then serve. It’s that simple.  Add a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive oil before mixing prior to serving. Fresh ground pepper over everything.

It’s hard to enjoy this out of season which is why I’m highlighting it now.  If you attempt this in the winter months,  no matter how hard you try those winter tomatoes will stay rock hard and NOT give up the juices they do in the Summer.  Those juices are the real flavor in this salad and the soaked bread delivers it to you.  Note: seasoning. At every step give the salad a taste and if something is not quite right, a little salt and pepper will correct it.IMG_1700

 

 

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OLIVE OIL, BLACK PEPPER, AND ROSEMARY FOCACCIA

tday2015 073 This will  become a favorite recipe in your collection I promise!! FOCACCIA!!! that square or rectangular shaped Italian bread of varying thickness.  Topped with nothing or with a variety of items, none more delicious as the simple and very traditional Olive Oil, fresh Chopped Rosemary, and Black Pepper topping.  Are you looking at the picture?  Take a look.  There’s a white something on it too and that’s the scary sounding Italian LARDO.  Now I did not title the blog with LARDO in it for a good reason, it’s simply another item to add to the top.  More later on why it’s SO delicious, but to make this recipe accessible to as many as possible, it’s a basic focaccia that you can add on to if you like.  Let’s talk a little about Italian Focaccia, baking, and my home memories.  None of focaccia.  Not sure when that became something here in America but the term generally at one time was used regarding the baked square breads of Central Italy.  My heritage is southern Italian so the word was not used until one day when it was used everywhere.  Same with Ciabatta bread..recent to me, but always fiercely Central Italian, not new.  Bread baking or any YEAST baking can be scary to some.  Get over it and you will be spinning your own Pizza doughs and coming up with your own types of focaccia.   tday2015 068What is FOCACCIA??  It’s an Italian bread which generally contains more olive oil and yeast than a pizza dough.  It’s usually baked in a square or rectangular pan, cut into squares and is served as a starter, part of an Antipasto with salumi, olives, and cheeses on the side.  Or it is served as the bread with one’s meal, or as the meal itself.  Rarely will you see Italians in Italy eating sandwiches using Focaccia as the bread as that practice is more of an American or out of Italy practice.  Personally, (  you know I’m throwing my 2 Euros into the pot here) it’s too much bread and too much of a food on it’s own to make a sandwich out of it.  It’s a great addition to a buffet table for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  One of the most popular forms is the Olive Oil rich Rosemary, Salt and Black Pepper Focaccia version.  Similar breads are made through Italy with other names.  SCHIACCIATA is a Tuscan bread many times made with grapes, rosemary, or just olive oil.  Consider my version here, especially if you go that extra mile with the LARDO as a Tuscan Inspired version.  Baking breads at home reminds me of a very DARK period in my parents’ kitchen growing up.  They would from time to time get on these “kicks” or phases.  Their bread baking phase was particularly hard for my sister and I . Their breads all tasted the same…almost saltless, dense and crumbly, overly yeasty, hard to cut, you get the picture.  “HEY PETE, TODAY LET’S MAKE A HONEY WHEAT BREAD”..and my sister and I were running for the last slice of real out of the house made Brick oven Italian bread.  Hated that period in their cooking experimentation.  Basically every bread they made tasted the same..everything.  Most childhood kitchen memories for me are sentimental, heart warming…this one is not. Living in Staten Island we were never 5 minutes away from an amazing Italian bread bakery so…..no need to bake at home!!  Focaccia falls into a different category than loaf bread does.  Let get the flour out and start making some Focaccia together!!

 

SERVES: up to 8              TIME: 4 hours or so

2 CUPS WARM WATER (around 110 degrees, F)

2 TEASPOONS DRY YEAST

1/2 TEASPOON SUGAR

2 TEASPOON SALT

4 1/2 CUPS SIFTED FLOUR *All purpose works, but TIPO 00 from ITALY IS BETTER*

3 TABLESPOONS GOOD EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL *you want to taste the olive flavor in this*

2 TEASPOONS FINE CHOPPED FRESH ROSEMARY (do not use dried)

1 TABLESPOON FRESH GROUND BLACK PEPPER

SALT FOR TOP, FLAKED SEA SALT IS BEST, COARSE OR KOSHER is fine also.

OLIVE OIL FOR BRUSHING

6 STRIPS OF LARDO (OPTIONAL)

LARDO..don’t be scared…Lardo is an Italian Cured Pork Cut..It’s the Cured portion of FatBack, very little meat if any is included.  Generally it’s snowy white.  Cured with secret regional herbs and spices, Rosemary  being one of them, so it’s a natural accompaniment to this Focaccia.  Serve in thin slices as an antipasto, the most prized comes from Aosta in the Northwest of Italy, and Colonnata in Tuscany.

In a large bowl add the water, mix the salt and sugar till dissolved. Then sprinkle the yeast over the top and gently stir.. Let this sit for 15 minutes until it bubbles and froths on top.  Now in slow batches, add the flour, 1 tablespoon olive oil and work the dough till it comes together.  If it’s still too tacky gently add more flour in small increments.  When it’s no longer sticky knead it on a floured board/surface for no less than 10 minutes.  Now place in a large bowl, add 1 tbs of OliveOil making sure the whole ball of dough is covered in oil. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and leave in a warm area to raise for 2 hours.  Punch down the dough and knead for 2 minutes and reform into a ball, back into the bowl, cover and let rise for 45 minutes.    Oil a baking pan and press the dough into the pan (11 X13) or larger..the larger the pan the thinner your focaccia.  Try to press the dough till all the sides, if it shriks back some what, it’s ok… Now with your finger poke the dough in random spots, do not rip through the dough.  Brush the top of the focaccia with olive oil and sprinkle about 1 tsp. of coarse salt (like Kosher) over the top, the black pepper, and the rosemary (again, do not use dried rosemary for this..the flavor is wrong, the texture is wrong and it will only crisp up more in the heat…use FRESH).  Let this sit on top of the stove for 20 minutes.  Pre heat the oven to 475 degress F.tday2015 052

Bake the focaccia until it’s browned on the bottom and golden brown on the top, about 20-25 minutes.  Some ovens might get it done sooner, just keep an eye on it.  When it’s done it should look like this:tday2015 067  If you are using the LARDO, drape the slices over the top after you’ve let the focaccia sit out of the oven for 10 minutes.  The risidual heat will allow the lardo to melt into the bread.  It’s out of this world.  If you want to keep it VEGAN OR VEGETARIAN certainly omit the Lardo.  Cut with a sharp knife.  Enjoy.

 

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