Category Archives: SIDE DISH

SAUSAGE AND PEPPERS MEATBALLS, PARTY TIME FAVORITES

IMG_4685More meatballs…can one ever have too many meatball recipes?  Imagine a world where instead of eating the same meatballs at every cocktail party, you know….the frozen bag of balls added to a slow cooker with Ketchup and Grape Jelly….those ones or added to brown gravy..those ones too? Imagine if there were different meatballs..all the time. A world of so many meatball recipes and styles you could eat a different one every day of the year.  That’s my goal.  To give the home cook ideas to move out of the same old same old.  Ok, sounding harsh here maybe but not my intent.  Variety.  Mix it up.  Like getting new clothes or a hair cut.  Bringing a fresh idea to a food type that everyone loves especially at parties.  I created this meatball recipe for a party where they wanted sausage and peppers but didn’t want big  links, or the rolls, or slices, or the mess associated with eating Sausage and Peppers at a party.  An appetizer party where everything is small, compact and can be juggled with a drink in one hand and a small plate in the other. Thinking outside of the old box.  I thought…put all the components of the Sausage and Peppers and Onions dish into a meatball.  There.  Done.  Easy.  The chopping of the peppers and onion and the rolling of the balls might be the most work involved.  Not sloppy.  Compact.  East to handle AND DELICIOUS. Get the flavor of a serving of Sausage and Pepper in a small meatball.  Are you excited? I’m excited.  Let’s go into the kitchen together and get this party started!!

1 1/2 lbs. SWEET ITALIAN SAUSAGE MEAT (PREFERABLY WITH FENNEL) OUT OF ITS CASINGS

1 LARGE EGG. BEATEN

1/4 CUP PLAIN ITALIAN BREADCRUMBS

3 FINE DICED CUBANELLE (ITALIAN FRYING PEPPERS)

2 FINE DICED MEDIUM SIZE ONIONS

2 FINELY MINCED CLOVES OF GARLIC

2 TBS MINCED ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY

2 TBS HEAVY CREAM

1/8 CUP GRATED PECORINO OR PARMIGIANO CHEESE

PINCH OF BLACK PEPPER

2 TBS  RED  ITALIAN WINE

OLIVE OIL

Add olive oil , about 2 tbs to a wide skillet and when the oil is heated add the onions and peppers.  You will need some patience here, this is not a quick saute’.  Instead your really “sweating” the peppers and onions to slowly soften them.  Season with just a small bit of salt.  Shake them a few times to prevent them from getting crisp or brown on one side.  When they are soft, about 10 minutes into it, add the garlic and let this cook for about 3 minutes.  Now add the wine. and let this cook until the wine is just about evaporated.  Move off the heat and let this mixture cool.  Pour the heavy cream over the breadcrumbs and let them hydrate.  Takes about 5 minutes.  Now add that to all the other ingredients (including the peppers and onions)  and gently blend well. Let this mixture sit for 20minutes covered in the fridge.  Now form into small balls and fry them on all sides for at least 10 minutes.  Break one open to make sure it’s cooked thru.  Makes about 25-30. Serve on toothpics, or pics on the side.  You can also use a longer pick and do a meatball and a small ball of mozzarella for a party platter.  Or you can freeze or refrigerate for use later.  They reheat wonderfully on a lightly oiled sheet pan.  Sausage and Peppers without the mess…serve a few in an Italian Roll..delicious!!  See folks, so many ways to cook a dish….be creative, have fun, Happy Cooking!!

 

 

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BROCCOLI RABE AL FORNO (BAKED WITH BREADCRUMBS)

christmas2015 154BROCCOLI DI RABE aka BROCCOLI RABE, Rapini, Brucculi di Rape, Friarielli, Broccolini…a family of similar bitter broccoli greens loved by Southern Italian. On  Italy’s southern Eastern coast it’s Cima Di Rape…a type of Turnip Green, but they all have the same earthy, minerally, bitter and broccoli like undertone.  Some people are always asking, “How do you make them Less bitter?” Well, here’s my answer.  Use Spinach. If you don’t like that Southern Italian taste for Bitter things, this isn’t your vegetable but you can always make any broccoli rabe recipe with a host of the mild greens, especially in the winter.  Consider Swiss Chard, Escarole, Spinach, Mustard Greens (ok, maybe not, they have a nice bite to them too..but expand the greens you cook with. Not only are the very nutritious for you but they are generally dirt cheap.)  The key to this BROCCOLI RABE AL FORNO is getting the Rabe soft.  This is a BISCOTTO dish, meaning it’s cooked twice.  Once to soften rabe. Then again in a baking pan with the breadcrumb topping.  I promise you once you taste this you’ll be making it again and again.  Let me just point out that your kitchen repetoire should NEVER be “ONE” of any dish.  In my years of blogging and posting on Social Media the most common comment when I post a dish like this is  “that’s not how I make it”, or “I make it like my mom did” or “I didn’t know it could be made any other way”.  There is no “ONE” Broccoli Rape recipe.  There’s always the most popular, garlic, olive oil, peperoncino, maybe a piece of anchovy, ok, or not..simma down…salt and the rabe…finished with water, or wine, or stock then eaten as is or with sausage and cavatelli or orecchiette. Most foods enjoy a host of ways to make them.   I chop Broccoli Rabe into Minestrone, roll it in a stuffed bread, pair it with beans, use it to stuff rollatini (get the picture??) or BAKE IT AND LET’S DO IT NOW!! ANDIAMO ALLA CUCINA (off to the kitchen we go).

TIME: 2 HOURS               SERVES : 4

 

2 Fresh Heads of Broccoli Rabe, taking about 1 1/2 inches off the bottom, rinsing then drying between a few paper towels.

1/8 cup OLIVE OIL

8 GARLIC CLOVES, mince 3 of them. leaving 5 whole.

1 TSP. PEPERONCINO

1 ANCHOVY FILET (oh, you like them?  add 2, no? you don’t? add none)

KOSHER SALT

1/8 CUP WHITE WINE

4 TBS. TOASTED PLAIN BREADCRUMBS *in a hot dry pan, gently toast the breadcrumbs just until they START to turn color. They will go from untoasted to BURNT in a NY Minute, keep shaking the pan). Once they take on some color add them to a bowl.  When they’ve cooled off add 3 tbs. grated Pecorino Romano.  then drizzle with a little olive oil, pinch of salt, pinch of peperoncino or black pepper, your preference. Then reserve for later.

OPTIONAL: 1 TBS RAISINS SOAKED IN WHITE WINE….1 TBS TOASTED PIGNOLI

Pre heat oven to 400 degrees F. Oil a medium sized baking pan and lightly coat with some of the toasted breadcrumbs.

Chop the Broccoli rabe into `1 1/2 inch pieces.  This makes it easier to eat out of the baking dish.  In a large heavy skillet or pot, heat the olive oil and add the broccoli rabe and make sure you get all the oil mixed in with it.  Add the garlic (all of it, minced and whole), anchovy and peperoncino.  Cover the pan and let this cook for about 5 minutes. Carefully remove the cover and stir.  Season with salt.  Add the wine..Mix. Cover and let this cook on low for 10 minutes.  Remove the cover and let it cook until the liquid is evaporated. Turn the cook rabe into the baking dish and top with the toasted breadcrumbs. Drizzle with more olive oil.  Bake for 15 minutes or until the crumbs are toasty and browned.  Let is sit out of the oven for at least 5 minutes before serving.  It’s wonderful at room temperature.  It’s a great side dish to seafoods and grilled foods.  Perfect for a buffet table.  That’s another reason I like to chop the rabe smaller than you’d normally serve it.  Easy access, easy to eat.  Hopefully you’re going to add this to your recipe files.  I might just have to make this again today!! HAPPY COOKING!!!

 

STUFFED PEPPERS WITH SWEET SAUSAGE STUFFING, PEPERONI IMBOTTITI CON SALSICCE

00000 Let me introduce you to one of my many styles of making STUFFED PEPPERS.  This version uses Italian Frying Peppers also known as CUBANELLES.  They are a sweet variety that when cooked are even more flavorful I think than a cooked Bell Pepper.  When possible these are the pepper I use for my Sausage and Peppers and Onions because of their intense taste.  The stuffing is a mix of Sweet Italian Fennel Sausage, toasted and olive “oiled” breadcrumbs, Parsley, diced Cured Black olives, capers, garlic, and Provolone plus a bit of tomato paste to add some dramatic color.  One point I try to make when people speak to me about their cooking is to be creative and open minded.  There is no one “stuffed pepper” recipe.  All these stuffed vegetable dishes most likely were created by a thrifty or impoverished home cook who needed to stretch what they had in front of them to feed a family. When cooking regionally you can come up with dishes that evoke an area by using ingredients that are common to that region’s cuisine. I’m dipping into my favorite region of Italy with these “PEPERONI IMBOTTITI” (stuffed peppers) and that region is Napoli, the city of Naples and its surrounding towns.  Sweet Fennel Sausage, peppers, capers, breadcrumbs, tomato, cured black olives, Provola…even stuffed vegetables…they all are part of the Napoletana kitchen.  My Mom made a few versions of Stuffed Peppers, some I still make, some I’ve created from my years of cooking, traveling and researching food.  I’ve never met a stuffed pepper I didn’t like so let me introduce you to this one….PEPERONI IMBOTTITI CON SALSICCE, Peppers Stuffed with Sausage.

MAKES 8                                               TIME: 1 hour 15 minutes

10 CUBANELLE PEPPERS, TOPS OFF, GENTLY REMOVE RIBS AND SEED FROM INSIDE

4 SWEET ITALIAN SAUSAGE LINKS (WITH FENNEL) OUT OF THEIR CASINGS

2 SLICED CLOVES OF GARLIC

1 1/4 CUPS OF TOASTED ITALIAN BREADCRUMBS

1/2 CUP GRATED PROVOLONE

2 TBS CHOPPED ITALIAN PARSLEY

1/2 TSP OREGANO

2 TBS TOMATO PASTE

2 TBS WHITE WINE, plus 2 TBS FOR COOKING

5 BLACK OIL CURED OLIVES, PITTED AND FINELY CHOPPED

1 TSP CAPERS

1 TBS EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL, plus 2 TBS for cooking

SALT, PEPERONCINO to taste

 

In a large skillet, heat 1 tbs of the Olive Oil till it’s medium hot, then add the loose sausage meat.  With a wooden spoon break up the sausage as it’s cooking and move it around the pan from time to time.  When the sausage is nicely browned, add the garlic and cook for 5 minutes.  Now add 2 tbs of White Wine.  Let this simmer for 5 minutes.  In the meantime add 1 tbs of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil to the breadcrumbs and mix it well. then add the Provolone to this mix.  Let the sausage cool down for 10 minutes, then in a large bowl mix all the ingredients except the peppers together. Taste for seasoning.  Now gently stuff them into the peppers.  Don’t overstuff, they tear easily.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Add some olive oil and wine to a baking dish.  Lay the peppers into the dish/pan and cover with foil.  Bake for 1/2 hour.  Remove from oven and open the foil (away from your face!!) and gently turn the peppers over. Close the foil and bake for 15 minutes longer.  Then remove the foil and bake for 10 minutes.  Done.  They should be tender and loaded with flavor.  Garnish the peppers with chopped parsley.  Serve with Italian bread to sop up those pan juices and enjoy the peppers.  The peppers are amazing the next day. They also taste their best at room temperature.  Perfect for an antipasto table.

A taste of my home cooking in your home kitchen.  A little bit of Napoli as well.  Happy Cooking!!

 

MEATBALLS WITH A SICILIAN INFLUENCE, CREATING A RECIPE, POLPETTINE IN BIANCO

0041Meatballs….one of those perennial favorites, all kinds, all types, all cuisines.  One of my missions with my food blogging and Social Media posting is that people open their minds to meatballs other than the usual suspects. Oh I’m not saying that your favorites aren’t fantastic but instead I’m saying look beyond the familiar and there’s a world of other types to enjoy.  Standing at my stove last night it was St.Joseph’s Day (Festa di San Giuseppe) which is celebrated with much fervor by Italians, specifically Sicilians.  You see the good San Giuseppe saved Sicily from all sorts of bad things and as most religious legends and traditions  do, there is celebrating on the days these saints are honored.  For Sicily there’s a host of foods, and since March 19 falls during LENT when meat was forbidden to be eaten, all the dishes are meatless, emphasis on seafood and fish.  Confused? Asking yourself, um, then why a meatball post?  BECAUSE.  These are not meatballs for St.Joseph’s day but, as with all recipes, they have a development genesis. Ground chuck in the fridge….one daughter who doesn’t like anchovies in her pasta (which was the one of the St.Joseph’s entrees I made)…killing two birds with one stone meant to have something for my daughter, make meatballs out of that chopped chuck.  Easy. Then the recipe developer in me took over and I paired the Sicilian-ness of the day with my meatballs.  No these aren’t a traditional Sicilian meatballs but, again, recipe development has many influences and the Sicilian holiday gave me the inspiration.  Ground Chuck.  Sicilian Oregano.  Pecorino cheese. Black Pepper.  Eggs. Plain Breadcrumbs. Red Onions. Mix, roll, fry in Sicilian Olive Oil and simmer in a mix of that oil, red onion, basil and Marsala Wine, also from Sicily. Sicily’s cuisine does not always contain garlic, oh yes it’s used but Onion will show up more often.   Originally I was going to use White Wine and I named the dish Polpettini in Bianco.  Instead  I switch last minute to the made in Sicily fortified Marsala.  Still in Bianco because that Italian Culinary term means NO TOMATO.  See, more pearls of Italian culinary wisdom.  You’re Welcome.548528_2971219081903_1304531591_32189688_1417227459_n From my hometown of Staten Island NYC comes this picture courtesy of the Staten Island Advance of the San Giuseppe (St.Joseph’s) Procession.    How does any of this factor into developing a recipe? Again, my opinion only, but a good recipe is developed organically…things that should belong together create a special harmony and when you’re in a certain mindset you become even more creative. E COSI’. Let’s make POLPETTINI IN BIANCO.

TIME: 45 MINUTES                                    YIELDS: 25 WALNUT SIZED MEATBALLS, approx.

 

1 LB. GROUND CHUCK (80% lean, 20% fat)

1 LARGE EGG

3 TBS. FINELY MINCED ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY

1 SMALL CALABRIAN RED ONION OR SHALLOT, finely minced

1/2 TSP SICILIAN DRIED OREGANO rubbed between your hands, or any good dried Oregano

1 TBS SICILIAN EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL or another good Extra Virgin, preferably Italian

1/2 CUP DRY PLAIN BREADCRUMBS moistened (hydrated) with 3 tbs milk or cream

1/2 CUP FRESHLY GRATED CACIOCAVALLO OR PECORINO CHEESE

1/2 TSP SEA SALT

1/2 TSP BLACK PEPPER

2 TBS OLIVE OIL (or use the same you used above)

1/2 CUP MARSALA WINE OR WHITE WINE

1/8 CUP STOCK OR WATER

2 FRESH BASIL LEAVES

In a large bowl beat the egg and add the cheese, breadcrumbs, parsley, oregano, all but 1 tsp of the onion, salt and pepper,the tbs of Extra Virgin Olive oil. When this is well mixed together, add the meat and gently blend till it’s all one mixture. Let this rest for 5 minutes. Form into Walnut sized balls and line on a foil or wax paper or parchment paper covered baking sheet.  In a large wide and heavy skillet heat the 2 TBS of Olive Oil and in batches add the meatballs and let them fry for about 6 minutes,397224_3628916283922_1247137950_n then turn, fry for another 4 minutes.  remove them all to a platter keeping them covered until done.  In the pan add the remaining onion and saute for 3 minutes then add the stock and the Marsala, bring to a boil.  Add the basil leaf then the all the meatballs and reduce to a simmer.  Let this simmer for 15 minutes but stir a few times.  Done.Remove from the flame and  give gentle stir.  Let them sit for 15 minutes…then serve.  Wonderful with roasted potatoes and a green sauteed vegetable.  Enjoy making these PURPETTINE CU’BIANCU….what’s that?  POLPETTINE IN BIANCO in Sicilian.  More fun saying it that way I think.  Happy Cooking!!

POTATOES STEWED IN TOMATO, PATATE IN UMIDO, WITH GARLIC AND OLIVE OIL

12924567_1312429585441165_3820909032551130529_nDo you have a dish that brings you back to your childhood kitchen table?  I’m sure , like me, you have many.  Most of mine are simple dishes that my stay at home Mom fed us day after day and while they all left an impression on me some were just more special to me.  Coming in from P.S.26 in Staten Island, NYC at 3:10pm every day would always be made better when the aroma coming from Mom’s kitchen reached out..grabbed me by the nostrils and pulled me in.  These are things you don’t ever forget.  Let me not bore you AGAIN with my ethnic background, OK, I’ll bore you..I’m ItalianAmerican, second generation born in the U.S. and our meals were mostly Italian foods, or ITalianAmerican foods and peppered up with American and other international cuisines.  Mom gave us a great meal every night (not so much on breakfast, Mom hated the mornings). Come Spring I start to miss Mom more than usual (#italianamericanmommasboy), she loved her Spring and all the holidays it contained.  March is a bridge month I think.  A little Winter , A little Summer.  It takes us from the cold barren ice into the budding green and flowers.So winter or colder weather dishes are still great thru the month.  PATATE IN UMIDO…Stewed Potatoes, doesn’t sound to great does it?  Let me change your mind.  I’d eat this dish every night. On it’s own with a nice piece of Italian bread.  In the Summer when Dad’s garden was bursting she’d throw handfuls of his many varieties of green beans into the pot as well.  In that one move she took the hearty Wintry Patate in Umido and turned it into a Summer’s dish.  I smell her Aqua Net shellacked hair do along with her perfume as she’s passing me by as I write this. I’ll bet she wants to make sure I don’t screw up her dish as I share it with you!  LET’S COOK!!!

3 lbs of peeled potatoes

3 tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

4 cloves of garlic

1 can of San Marzano tomatoes, run thru a blender to puree or 2 cups of Passata

pinch of dried Oregano

salt, pepper

3 fresh Basil leaves

water as needed

Pecorino Romano, or Parmigiano Reggiano, grated to taste

Peperoncino, to taste

Like most rustic Italian dishes not a lot of ingredients, all of these are very obtainable.

Cut potatoes into equal but cubes or slices.  Heat, in a heavy bottomed pot 2 Tbs. Olive Oil.  Pinch of salt, a bit of the Oregano, a bit of the pepper. Now add the potatoes and let them cook for 5 minutes stirring as you go.  Add the garlic and saute’ till fragrant.  Blend well.  Now season the potatoes with salt and pepper and then add the tomatoes and 1 cup of water.  Bring to a boil.  Stir.  Now let this pot simmer for 40 minutes.  Test a potato for doneness. Make sure you gently stir without breaking up the potatoes. If they are cooked through you are done.  Remove from the heat.  Tear up 3 basil leaves and gently blend in. DONE!  This makes large servings for 4, or a side dish for 4-6.  Check the dish for seasoning.  Add salt and pepper as needed/to your liking.  Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the pot. Let your diners add their own peperoncino and Grated Cheese.

Thanks again for stopping by and HAPPY COOKING!!

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PEPERONATA, SOUTHERN ITALIAN PEPPER STEW

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PEPERONATA

 

Italian Cuisine is full of simple dishes that require one rule….look for the best ingredients you can find.  That basically translates into cook with the seasons.  In the USA we can access foods out of our regional seasons at any time of the year.  Making an out of season peperonata will still be a delicious dish but never as good as when peppers are in season.  That rule applies across the board.  Me?  I make peperonata whenever I feel like totally realizing that a Peperonata made in May will take delicious, but never as good as one you make in August thru November.The most basic form of this PEPERONATA, which is a PEPPER STEW, is  slow cooking strips of different colored peppers in Olive Oil  with onions and garlic.  Then it splits off from there into many variations.  Give this dish about 2 hours of your time and you’ll be making it over and over again.  Use a nice heavy and wide pot fot this dish, a dutch oven.  I add the umami of Anchovy to the mix.  The dish is southern Italian so as long as these are combos that appear in other regional dishes you are not committing Italian Food Heresy. 006Home grown produce that’s still warm in your hand and seconds from picking it will ALWAYS be the optimum way to get your ingredients. In the real world only a handful of us have that treat.  Next best idea is to have a local farmers or farm market where produce truly is local, from the surrounding area.  Living at the Central Jersey Shore we have quite a few great places that for those of us who don’t grow in our own gardens and the seasonal selections are fantastic. This is where I purchased the peppers for my PEPERONATA. http://www.deliciousorchardsnjonline.com/….DELICIOUS ORCHARDS in Colts Neck N.J.  Beautiful selection of local bell peppers, seasonal bell peppers from other areas, local cubanelles, cheese peppers, hot cherry peppers, Italian long hots, Italian Long Sweets, and dozens of chile pepper varieties.  For this dish we use a mix of multicolored bell peppers.  The long stewing transforms these ordinary tasting peppers into a complex and velvet like vegetable stew.  About the variations, if the core of the dish isn’t a slow cooked down pot of pepper slices with olive oil and onions and/or garlic it’s just a saute’ of peppers. A little tomato in the mix adds to the complexity.  I use a tablespoon of Imported Italian tomato paste..rich and concentrated. Lidia is telling us “layers of flavor” in most of her shows and this dish is an example of how a crisp raw pepper and some other ingredients turns into something so much greater than it was before you made the Peperonata.  Get excited!! This is an exciting tasting dish. Here is my version of PEPERONATA!

MAKES ABOUT 5 CUPS                             TAKES: CLOSE TO 2 HOURS

1/2 cup OLIVE OIL

8 MULTICOLORED SUMMER BELL PEPPERS, seeded, cored, ribs cut out, and cut into as uniformly sliced cuts as you can get.

2 MEDIUM SLICED ONIONS

3 SLICED CLOVES OF GARLIC

1/2 TSP. CRUMBLED DRIED OREGANO

1 TSP. RINSED SALTED CAPERS

1 ANCHOVY FILET (ok, optional if you refuse to enjoy the umami that those delicious little fish give without making it taste like fish…just sayin…)

1 TABLESPOON OF TOMATO PASTE (i use imported Italian tomato paste)

2 TABLESPOONS OF RED WINE VINEGAR

1/8 cup WHITE WINE

SEA SALT

PEPERONCINO

In a large heavy pot(Dutch oven) heat 1/2 the olive oil and add the peppers. Season the peppers with salt  and make sure to coat them well with the oil.  This really helps with breaking them down.  Let this cook, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes.  Now add the onion, garlic, anchovy, oregano and pinch of peperoncino, pinch of salt and blend well with the peppers.  Let this cook for 10 minutes.Add the wine and tomato paste  the rest of the olive oil and the capers and blend well.  Continue to cook on low for 1 hour, stirring frequently. When the peppers are nice and soft, add the vinegar and stir.  Taste. Check for seasonings at this point. Remove from the heat and let it sit for 3 hours or over night. Then use either at room temperature or gently reheated.

Some people add olive to this.  I prefer not too.  Up to you.  TUTTI I GUSTI SON GUSTI!! meaning everyone to their own tastes!!

So what are we using this in?? Again, on it’s own as a main or side with bread…in eggs, frittata, over an omelette, mixed with potatoes, on sandwiches,  with sausages and pork, over grilled chicken..on flatbreds, pizzas, bruschetta and crostini…0002More local peppers…these are from another fantastic local farm market I frequent… MATT’S FARM MARKET in Lake Como, NJ…  http://www.mattsfarmmarket.com/

 

Remember, these are not fried peppers, or sauteed peppers, they are stewed peppers, a 2 hour investment will pay off in high culinary dividends!!

 

 

 

 

 

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