Saturday, May 23, 2009

Italians Make Things Hot


Doesn’t that just sound pretty? What with it being Italian and all, it’s kind of like the Sophia Loren of salads, if you ask me. I mean… you take normal ingredients. Things like stale bread of all things, some tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and a red pepper. Then, true to Italian form, you sex it up with some good dressing and suddenly you have a show-stopper summer salad, something that makes you do a double-take and think “Huh… so… it’s just bread and tomatoes? I don’t get it, but damn, I kind of have a crush.”

During one hot Phoenician summer day, I was bumming around watching Ina Garten on the Food Network and saw her literally throw this dish together in what seemed minutes-- I was sold. Given the heat, I was in need of something fresh that had the essence of summer but not the heat of it. Oh, Ina. You’re a woman after my own heart.

Again, it seems like some of the best dishes were perfected by peasants centuries ago, and panzanella is the same. Different versions call for different ingredients. Some have anchovies, some don’t have cucumber, some grill the red peppers, some use a specific Tuscan salt-less bread. This is a pretty basic version that you can fancify to your liking. Add what you like to this dish-- grill the tomatoes or slow roast them, perhaps. Jamie Oliver uses the tomato juice as part of his dressing. In my very amateur opinion, this recipe is a great balance of flavor, and, more importantly, a solid starting point to jump off in your own direzione.

From new year, new food

Back to the recipe. I’m an impatient person, I think. I just don’t have time to wait for a loaf of bread to be a few days old before I make this. When I want panzanella, I want it now. Instead, I cheat (duh) and use a fresh loaf, torn into chunks and toasted with a bit of olive oil, sea salt, and fresh cracked pepper in a skillet. The croutons alone are enough to entice me over and over again to make this dish as the weather warms up and the tomatoes ripen with the summer.

From new year, new food

A final note on Sophia Loren. You know, I don’t proclaim myself an expert on her by any means, but how can you not love a woman who one time said "Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti" ??? Even if she’s a bit tanorexic these days, she still rocks it. Any girl would be lucky to look so good, and I think this classic Italian salad with fresh veggies is a good place to start. At least... here's hoping.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Cabbage Kid

Growing up, I ate a lot of Indian food. Included in that was a neon-yellow shredded cabbage dish that was fine, but it wasn’t my favorite by any means. Besides the standard coleslaw at picnics and this one horrible experience of me actually trying to make a grilled red cabbage slaw (I still shudder… never take for granted a good olive oil, especially when you accidentally use a RANCID OLIVE OIL and ruin everything, which, btw, still gives me nightmares...ugh) cabbage was just kind of meh you know?

I mean… its cabbage.

This lack of interest probably also stemmed from my Dad banning brussel sprouts and cabbage-like items from the table besides the previously mentioned Indian cabbage, so it was literally not until January, at the tave tiranse night that my friend Kari suggested sliced red cabbage to eat with hummus. Pardon? Yeah, it sounds weird, but you know what? I was an idiot. Red cabbage with good hummus is the shiz, and you should know it. Sweet, crunchy, and kind of perfect, cabbage totally slapped me across the face with its greatness and now I’m a big fan and want to put cabbage in everything and sing about it from the rooftops.

Remember how I said I couldn’t write about braised cabbage because it was so hot outside? Well Nature complied and has made it rain at least 4 of the 7 days of the week, which makes me careful for what I wish for. And yet. This is perfect cabbage weather, especially when it’s braised and served with melty cheese and crusty bread. Oh, baby.

From new year, new food

I got this Savoy Cabbage Gratin recipe from Molly’s blog, Orangette, who in turn got it from Molly Steven's book, All About Braising. I’ve been a big fan of the Orangette blog for a while, and had also wanted to try this recipe for months. (If you haven’t visited her site…please do. And soon.) So while the concept of this dish is simple and the ingredients are few, it just takes time to bake. First you take a Savoy cabbage, chop it up, then saute it for a bit. Then you bake/braise the cabbage in the chicken stock for a nice long time. Then you add cheese and let it get melty and the edges get crispy...

From new year, new food

While you might have to wait almost an hour for this darling of a dish to bake, I promise you… your kitchen smells GOOD, and the cheese…you should just put a lot on because melted cheese on this is a most-awesome delight. I didn’t do the triple-cream cheese Molly had recommended because I’m cheap and wanted to use what I had on hand, which was Parmesan and Havarti, and damn if it didn’t work out swimmingly. I had 2 bowls and wanted more, but I restrained myself to save the rest for lunch and dinner the next day.

The comfort of this dish reminded me of the way I felt about soup over the winter… it just sort of hugs you from the inside out and is kind of perfect in a humble and lovely sort of way.

From new year, new food

Up next? Probably one of two salads I’m obsessed with right now. As a side note, you know how you get a song stuck in your head for three days straight and can’t get it out unless you sing it? All of the time? Like, every five minutes? Welcome to my world. Also, let me introduce you to a song by Josh Radin and Schuyler Fisk that I had originally kind of ignored on The Last Kiss soundtrack from a few years back. I’m hoping by me posting this on the blog it will finally leave my poor brain alone. Thanks Youtube!