Category Archives: SALADS

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

 

 

TURKISH SHEPHERD’S SALAD, OR ÇOBAN SALATASI

fulleuropevaca 1432  We are now in the throes of Summer.  The fresh seasonal and local produce is all around us.  My favorite time of the year!  AND it’s also when my family takes it’s annual vacation.  This year we did an “AmazingRace” like whirlwind from Belgium to Amsterdam to Germany to the Czech Republic to Poland to Slovakia to Hungary to Austria….take a breath,…then we finished the trip flying from Salzburg Austria to Istanbul Turkey.  Wonderful time, no problems, no issues, phenomenal scenery and people, many time zones, currencies and of course…THE FOOD!!!  What’s a food blogger to write about first?  Really!! I have 3000 pictures of sights and foods to remember the great trip by and the food choices along the way were varied and fantastic. Again, where do I start to share my food finds?  Last night I was at a Farmers Market here at the Jersey Shore and it came to me that my first “What did I eat on my Summer Vacation” post came to me.  Fresh vegetables.  They were at their peak wherever we went and they are at their peak here at home.  I’m going to ease my way back into blogging, I did give myself a 3 week break, so I’m happily back to work at it now.  My choice was a simple salad that was made extraordinary by the local seasonal vegetables used by the cooks.  It’s a chopped vegetable salad that is a common salad in Turkey.  First, this is my lingering view of Turkey:

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Sit back from your screen and drink that view in.  It’s of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul taken from the Karakoy Ferry we were on.  It took us from the European side to the Asian side of Istanbul, the only city that straddles itself on two continents. Like that?  Good.  I’m glad.  Now we move into the kitchen to prepare what the Turkish call ” COBAN SALATASI”, a common version of a Mediterranean chopped vegetable salad.  As with most heritage and regional recipes there are variations with Feta or no Feta cheese.  The version we had, see the lead picture, contained no Feta.  The taste was crisp, clean, and refreshing.  Maybe the amount of parsley in it contributes to that too. So, I’m giving you, the cook, the option to either include the Feta or not.  Next time I make it, I’ll add some feta.

COBAN SALATASI—–TURKISH SHEPHERD’S SALAD

SERVES: 4-5                                  TIME:45 MINUTES

2 RIPE LARGE TOMATOES, DICED

2 MEDIUM SIZED CUBANELLE (ITALIAN FRYING PEPPERS), SLICED AND DICED

1 MEDIUM CUCUMBER,  DICED

1 SMALL SWEET ONION, DICED FINE

1/2 BUNCH ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY COARSELY MINCED

1/4 CUP CUBED FETA

SEA SALT/KOSHER SALT

EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

JUICE OF ONE WHOLE LEMON

Whisk 1/8 cup Olive oil with the lemon, season with salt and pepper.  Let this sit for about 1 hour. Then whisk again.  Mix all the vegetables together.  Then pour the seasoned Olive Oil and Lemon over the whole thing and mix.  Let this sit for 1/2 at room temperature.

that’s it…fulleuropevaca 1490 It’s simple, clean, and goes GREAT with the usual American table of grilled or BBQ meats and seafood we enjoy through the summer.  It also makes a wonderful entree for a summer meal.  Grilled smoky pita bread, olives, cheeses..see where I’m going with this? Well, nice to be back home with lots of memories to keep my fingers typing and kitchen cranking and hopefully some new things for you to make in your kitchens!!

Before we leave this Turkish delight….enjoy this pic of the interior of AYASOFYA, or HAGIA SOPHIA.  For any fan of  World Art and Architecture this is one of the sights one wants to see.  I’ve wanted to see this since I was a kid first seeing it in a National Geographic Magazine. fulleuropevaca 1437

 

 

 

GO CRISP, GO SIMPLE…A ROMAINE SALAD WITH WHITE BALSAMIC AND OLIVE OIL DRESSING

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Thanks to a great response to this picture on my Facebook posts from various groups I’m in I’ll share this simple salad with you…by popular demand..LOL.  The construction of it could not be more simple.  ROMAINE SALAD, and I used an Organic Romaine as the main component.  Dinner was going to have lots of strong flavors and this was going to be the side dish so I opted for what is the most BASIC of Italian dressings, just using good Vinegar and Good Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  To up the flavor ante I went with a White Balsamic Vinegar.  Never heard of it?  Let’s talk.  It’s the same as the dark stuff however there’s some major differences in it’s production and aging.  It does not take on the deep rich flavors of a regular Balsamico.  What is does have is a light vinegar punch with a slight sweetness.  And it doesn’t discolor a salad. Yeah, I might be the anti-Balsamic on everything, I like it, and only like it if it’s a decent bottle, not all are even really Balsamico di Modena.  Many are just harsh vinegar caramel colored and they’ll scorch the back of your throat with their rough taste.  Aged Balsamic is warm, acidic, sweet and almost like a port wine or sherry in it’s feel when you are eating it.  Enough about Balsamic, here’s why I chose it..I though it’s light and sweet taste would just compliment my dinner and I think you will enjoy it too.

SERVES: 4                                 TAKES: 10 minutes   (no kidding)

3 FULL HEADS OF ROMAINE, CLEANED, DRIED WITH PAPER TOWELS, TRIMMED at the base

Makes about 1 cup

3/4 cup FRUITY EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
1/8 CUP WHITE BALSAMIC VINEGAR
KOSHER SALT
FRESHLY GROUND BLACK PEPPER

Place the lettuce in a large bowl.  In a cup or Jar add the Olive Oil and Vinegar.  Shake well. Pour over the lettuce.  Sprinkle with the about 1/4 Tsp. Salt and 1/8 Tsp. of the pepper.  Gently toss till all is coated with dressing, salt , and pepper.  Arrange leaves on a serving platter..taste for seasoning.!! (Always taste…how else will you know??). Serve IMMEDIATELY!!! If you are planning to serve later, to not assemble until 5 minutes before serving.  Freshness is key here!

 

So, very simple but with some strict rules to adhere to.. Don’t let me down and you will surely place this on your menus.  Happy Cooking!

POTATO, TOMATO, AND ARUGULA WALNUT SALAD..GREAT WITH GRILLED FOODS

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SALADS are truly underrated in many kitchens.  So often you can really make an entire meal out of one and not with a tons of fats or carbs.  However I love carbs and one of my favorite ways to get my fix is through POTATOES.  Hello?? There are more way to make a potato besides french frying it or mashing it.  Not sure if there are many other ingredients with such great versatility in the kitchen.  Hit up a local green grocer, Farmers Market, Farm stand or your supermarket’s produce counter and you will find a host of ideas like a recent trip to the Farm market did for me.  I bought (locally grown, how fortunate is that?) POTATOES, ARUGULA, RED ONIONS, TOMATOES and for a side salad/dish for grilled chicken we were having that night I put together this salad which I crowned with a simple VINAIGRETTE and toasted WALNUTS.  For you nut averse types you will miss out on the nutty crunch and taste but the salad without the nuts is still quite wonderful.  I urge you to try it.

For 4-5 people.     Takes abour 1 hour start to finish, or less.

1 lb cleaned small redskin potatoes, boiled in plenty of salted water until they are just tender (a fork will glide right thru them), about 15 minutes then GET THEM OUT OF THAT WATER or they will continue to cook and start smashing onto each other.  Dramatic perhaps but once they are smashed they are overcooked and tasteless.  Remove with a slotted spoon or a spider and place into a bowl of ice water.  GENTLY, don’t turn them out at the same time because they will get crushed.  Let them sit for about 5 minutes cooling down.  It’s ok if they are slightly warm though when you make the salad.

1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 tbs. Dijon Mustard

kosher salt,  fresh ground black pepper

3 tbs. finely diced red onion

2 tbs. good Apple Cider or Champagne Vinegar (or Sherry Vinegar)

2 ripe, seeded, diced beefsteak tomatoes or 1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

2 cups chopped baby arugula

1/8 cup toasted walnuts

While the potatoes are cooking, prep everything else.  The vinaigrette is simply made by adding all the ingredients except for the oil into a boil..whisk together well.  Now in a slow stream whisk the OliveOil in.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reserve on side.

When the potatoes are cooled, drain, pat dry and quarter them.  add the tomatoes, and the arugula.  Season with salt and pepper.  Toss together well.  IMPORTANT HERE…check the taste…you have to always taste you food as you go along.  If you are satisfied with the seasoning, then add the walnuts and the vinaigrette and toss, gently getting everything coated with the dressing.  Let this sit for a good 15 minutes.  Then serve.  It’s a great salad, especially during the Summer months.  Hit those produce markets, food never tastes as good unless you are growing it yourself.

 

SIMPLE FOODS MAKE EXTRAORDINARY DISHES

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One of the pleasures of eating aside from it being necessary nourishment is the taste. Most foods are delicious. I will not bore you with all the ones that I don’t think taste good but certainly will talk about a few that when paired together are perfection. Fresh mozzarella or creamy burrata paper with seasonal tomatoes, olive oil, herbs, olives,greens. There are so many variations like the delicious Caprese. Tonight we enjoyed a plate that so simple and substantial enough for it to be a starter or entree.
Crushed Piennolo tomatoes from Campania were mashed with basil and olive oil on whole wheat crostini and served with briny black oil cured olives from Gaeta and Burrata made with Buffalo milk in Campania. Heyyyy. One minute. You are thinking simple. That’s a whole bunch of sourcing going on there. You are correct. This was a great plate made with great ingredients. However this is not practical for most so here is what you do. Find a good fresh mozzarella or burrata in your area. Leave it at room temperature the day you are serving it. In some warm olive oil slowly melt down a pint of ripe grape tomatoes simply add some salt. Toast 8 slices of good country style Italian bread on both sides. Top each with a drizzle of olive oil then spread with the tomatoes. On a platter cover the bottom with rinsed and dried baby arugula. Place the crostini at on end. The mozzarella or burrata in the middle. Garnish with pitted Gaeta olives or a good oil cured black olives. Add some torn basil over the crostini. This serves about 4. Enjoy this treat as much as I enjoyed this platter at Obika Mozzarella Bar in London England.

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