Spanakopita

It was a rainy Sunday a few weeks ago, and Matt and I decided to try to relive our trip to Greece last year with a Greek food party.  One of our favorite things to order had been this – also one of my favorite things to whisk from breakfast trays, roll up in a napkin, and pull out right when sightseeing and the sun were getting too much and we just needed a little energy pop.

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These were surprisingly easy to make, and in the future, I could see it being even easier if I were to just use sheets of fillo in a baking dish instead of laboriously folding each into a little triangle.  But either way, it was a delicious addition to our Greek party.

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Ingredients

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 lb baby spinach
  • 1/2 lb feta, crumbled (scant 2 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 10 (17- by 12-inch) phyllo sheets, thawed if frozen

Directions

    1. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, then cook spinach, stirring, until wilted and tender, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and cool, about 10 minutes. Squeeze handfuls of spinach to remove as much liquid as possible, then coarsely chop. Transfer to a bowl and stir in feta, nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
    2. Preheat oven to 375°F.
    3. Melt remaining 1 stick butter in a small saucepan, then cool.
    4. Cover phyllo stack with 2 overlapping sheets of plastic wrap and then a dampened kitchen towel.
    5. Take 1 phyllo sheet from stack and arrange on a work surface with a long side nearest you (keeping remaining sheets covered) and brush with some butter. Top with another phyllo sheet and brush with more butter. Cut buttered phyllo stack crosswise into 6 (roughly 12- by 2 3/4-inch) strips.
    6. Put a heaping teaspoon of filling near 1 corner of a strip on end nearest you, then fold corner of phyllo over to enclose filling and form a triangle. Continue folding strip (like a flag), maintaining triangle shape. Put triangle, seam side down, on a large baking sheet and brush top with butter. Make more triangles in same manner, using all of phyllo.
    7. Bake triangles in middle of oven until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool slightly.
 From Epicurious Spanakopita
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Dolmades

One of my favorite things to order in Greece were dolmades, even if I could never quite pronounce them correctly and once ended up with a tomato salad instead.  What’s not clear is that the Greek name sounds more like “nnnnn-dolm-aaaa-des” and so oftentimes I think folks taking our order thought I just wanted tomatoes.

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In any event, we discovered grape leaves sold in our grocery store recently and so decided to add this to our Greek party adventure.

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They were just as laborious as I would have expected, but also just as delicious.  I also used two pans, one 10″ and one 12″ to fit all of them to cook.

Ingredients

1/4 cup plus 1 cup olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 cup long-grain rice
1 teaspoon salt
2 lemons, juiced
1 (8-ounce) jar grape leaves, or 36 medium-sized fresh leaves

Directions

In a large saute pan over medium high heat, heat 1/4-cup olive oil. Add the onions and saute until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and pine nuts and saute for 2 minutes. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and allow to cool slightly. Add the rice, salt, and juice of 1 lemon to the bowl with the onion mixture and mix well. Set aside.

Bring a medium pot of water to a simmer. Remove the grape leaves from the jar and drop them in batches of 4 or 5 into the hot water. Quickly remove them from the water and spread flat on a towel-lined work surface. Cut the stem from each grape leaf, as needed. (NOTE: Fresh grape leaves also need to be blanched for 1/2 minute.)

To assemble the dolmades, place 1 grape leaf on the work surface, dull side (or underside) of the leaf up. Place 1 to 2 teaspoons of rice filling near the stem end of the leaf. Fold the stem (bottom) end up over the filling, fold the sides toward the filling in the center, then roll up the leaf into a small cylindrical package, being careful not to fold too tightly, as the rice will expand during cooking.

Place the dolmades in a large Dutch oven or wide saute pan, seam side down. Combine the remaining cup of olive oil and juice of 1 lemon, and pour over the dolmades. (I actually thought this might have been too much oil, but as Lisa points out, the oil is necessary to make sure that the leaves do not dry out.

Cover with a pan lid and add water to cover to the level of the plate. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer for 1 hour, or until rice is tender.

From Food Network Emeril Lagasse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vegan Red Curry Coconut Soup

IMG_1748I tend to troll food sites – a LOT. I have a few favorites and then I just stumble onto others. Before I make something new, I always try to find mutiple versions of the same thing and pick and choose from the ones I like best. And then I “tweak.” I am an unrepentant tweaker. The soup below started out as one I read on thekitchn.com website. They got it from Heidi Swanson who wrote Super Natural Every Day. I admit that I had never heard of her or her cookbooks, but I liked the sound of the recipe.

I did a little prep for the soup earlier in the day and then we were gone on a very long, very lovely and VERY HOT walk arriving home – starving! Thankfully, we were able to sit down to dinner within 30 minutes of arriving home and it was wonderful. It may seeem counter-intuitive to eat hot soup on a hot day, but people from hot climates do it all the time. I used a mild Indian Red Curry Paste and it gave us all the spice we wanted. If you are really into spicy foods, you could use a hot red curry paste, but honestly I think you will be masking some of the wonderful flavors. This dish is very satsifying and only needed some naan or pita to go with it. Give it a try – it’s a keeper.

Vegan Red Curry Coconut Soup

Yield: 4 dinner portions

Ingredients

14 ounces extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Kosher salt

2 Tablespoons Indian red curry paste

3 Tablespoons coconut oil (or EVOO) plus a little more for the eggplant and tofu

3 large shallots, peeled and chopped

2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch circles and then cut into quarters to form a triangular dice

1 Japanese eggplant, cut like the zucchini

4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, with the skin, cut into small dice

4 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

2 cups vegetable stock

1 can (13.5 or 14 ounce) of regular coconut milk

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds lightly toasted in a dry skillet

2 to 3 Tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro

Directions

  1. I used a large cast-iron skillet for this. Season the tofu cubes with a little Kosher salt and drizzle it with EVOO. (You could use coconut oil but I used EVOO). Place in the skillet and on medium high heat, allow the tofu cubes to get nice and brown. When one side is brown (about 5 minutes) turn the cubes over and toast the other side until the tofu becomes firm and golden. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  2. In the same pan, brown the eggplant the same way (toss first with a little salt and EVOO) and set aside. Add the chopped zucchini to the eggplant.
  3. In a heavy soup pot ( I like ot use my Staub or Le Creuset for this) mix the red curry paste with the coconut oil and cook for about a minute, until fragrant. Add the chopped shallots. Cook, stirring until the shallots begin to soften.
  4. Stirin the zucchini, eggplant and potatoes and stir well. Cook for a few minutes until the zucchini begins to get tender. Stir in the garlic.
  5. Add the vegetable broth and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, cover and lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Stir occasionally for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Because of the small dice 20 minutes was all I needed. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
  6. To serve, dish out the soup and then toip with the tofu and sprinkle with the toasted pumpkin seeds and chopped cilantro.

NOTE: I toasted the tofu, the eggplant and the pumpkin seeds earlier in the day and set them covered on the counter (with the air conditioner going) until we returned home tonight to make dinner. I also chopped the other vegetables and had them ready although they took no time to chop. Then when I came home I started to cook and had dinner on the table within 30 minutes.

 

Baklava

For our dessert for our Greek party we made this very straightforward recipe for baklava.  Not having any walnuts or almonds as the original recipe suggested, we just used the pound of pecans hanging out in our cupboard and it turned out scrumptious anyways.  Once a pounds of pecans are doused in the honey and sugar, how could they not taste anything but amazing?

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In other news, I now think of this Aladdin song whenever I hear “baklava” after going to a Disney trivia night where the challenge was to finish the line from a Disney song.  This song specifically ends with “How about a little more ____?” The answer was “baklava,” and someone very funny (or truly hearing impaired) wrote in “broccoli rabe.”  Say it out loud a few times and it kind of makes sense… sort of.

Anyways while I can’t say this is as healthy as broccoli rabe, it’s a perfect end to a Mediterranean meal, or just a long Tuesday.

Ingredients

Syrup:

3 cups sugar, or 2 cups sugar and 1 cup honey
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 to 6 whole cloves, or 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)

Filling:

1 pound blanched almonds, pistachios, walnuts, or any combination, finely chopped or coarsely ground — I used pecans (about 4 cups)
1/4 cup sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves or cardamom (optional)
1 pound (about 24 sheets) phyllo dough
About 1 cup (2 sticks) melted butter or vegetable oil

Directions

1. To make the syrup: Stir the sugar, water, lemon juice, and if using, the corn syrup, cinnamon sticks, and/or cloves over low heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Stop stirring, increase the heat to medium, and cook until the mixture is slightly syrupy, about 5 minutes (it will register 225 degrees on a candy thermometer). Discard the cinnamon sticks and whole cloves. Let cool.

2. To make the filling: Combine all the filling ingredients.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-by-9-inch or 13-by-9-inch baking pan or 15-by-10-inch jelly roll pan.

4. Place a sheet of phyllo in the prepared pan and lightly brush with butter. Repeat with 7 more sheets. Spread with half of the filling. Top with 8 more sheets, brushing each with butter. Use any torn sheets in the middle layer. Spread with the remaining nut mixture and end with a top layer of 8 sheets, continuing to brush each with butter. Trim any overhanging edges.

5. Using a sharp knife, cut 6 equal lengthwise strips (about 1 3/4 inches wide) through the top layer of pastry. Make 1 1/2-inch-wide diagonal cuts across the strips to form diamond shapes.

6. Just before baking, lightly sprinkle the top of the pastry with cold water. This inhibits the pastry from curling. Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 300 degrees and bake until golden brown, about 15 additional minutes.

7. Cut through the scored lines. Drizzle the cooled syrup slowly over the hot baklava and let cool for at least 4 hours. Cover and store at room temperature for up to 1 week. If the baklava dries out while being stored, drizzle with a little additional hot syrup.

From Epicurious

Easy Bolognese

As Lisa mentioned, sometimes you just want a hearty pasta on a weeknight that isn’t fussy and is the perfect comfort food.  On one such Monday I made this Ina Garten bolognese recipe that was rich in flavor as if it had been cooked for hours, but in reality was made very quickly.

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Ingredients

2 tablespoons good olive oil, plus extra to cook the pasta
1 pound lean ground sirloin
4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/4 cups dry red wine, divided
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound dried pasta, I like using linguine for everything but small shells or penne is probably “technically” better to use
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

Directions

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground sirloin and cook, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the meat has lost its pink color and has started to brown.

Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 more minute. Pour 1 cup of the wine into the skillet and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper, stirring until combined. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt, a splash of oil, and the pasta, and cook according to the directions on the box.

While the pasta cooks, finish the sauce. Add the nutmeg, basil, cream, and the remaining 1/4 cup wine to the sauce and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened. When the pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl.

Add the sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan and toss well. Serve hot with Parmesan on the side.

2010, Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That?, All Rights Reserved

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/weeknight-bolognese-recipe.html?oc=linkback

 
From Ina Garten, Weeknight Bolognese

Refrigerator Oatmeal My Way

IMG_1733I really like oatmeal, but when the temperature is in the 8os, hot cereal just doesn’t quite have any appeal for me. I’m always trying to find a healthy breakfast that will keep me going during the day. After reading several recipes for refrigerator oatmeal, I decided to make my own. This can easily be doubled or tripled and eaten during the week. The longer the oatmeal sits, the thicker it gets, but it is ready within 24 hours, so yes, this is something you need to prepare ahead if you want it. Once you get the hang of making it, you can vary it to suit your tastes. This is my basic recipe and when I actually am ready to eat it, I will often add fresh berries or a diced peach or apricot. It’s quite filling without weighing you down and on days when I eat it, I’m always surprised when it’s one o’clock and I’m just starting to think about lunch – especially since I usually eat breakfast before 7:00 am!

Refrigerator Oatmeal

Yield: One portion

Ingredients

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1.5 teaspoons chia seeds (I get mine from www.nuts.com)

a good pinch of salt

2 Tablespoons dried cranberries, blueberries or raisins or a combination

1 heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon

1.5 Tablespoons finely chopped walnuts, flavored with a few drops of rose water OR  sliced almonds

2 Tablespoons plain Greek or Icelandic-style yogurt

3/4 cup skim milk

fresh berries or banana or peaches, optional

Directions

  1. In a glass container large enough to hold everything except for the fresh fruit, add all of the ingredients and mix well. (I like to stir it through with a chopstick)
  2. Cover the container and place in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours or up to a week.

It won’t look like much, especially at first, but give it a try and then feel free to play with the seasonings. Sometimes I add nutmeg or cardamom, along with the cinnamon. I find the dried fruit gives me all of the sweetness I require, but if you wish to add a little honey or silan (date syrup) be my guest.

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Blueberry Almond Streusal Cake

IMG_1730 (3)While we can now purchase blueberries all year round, we are officially in summer berry season. The basic cake is a simple butter kuchen and in the fall I make this with Italian plums and sliced almonds on top or thinly slice apples. It’s wonderful to have something like this in your repertoire. It is easy to throw together, it’s versatile and – well, it’s delicious. You can even freeze the cake, although I never have room to do that.

Use the best unsalted butter you can buy and the freshest eggs. When you are making something that is not masked with lots of spices, the quality of your ingredients really matter. I’m afraid I no longer recall where the original recipe came from, although it likely was the New York Times.

Blueberry Almond Streusal Cake

Yield: One 9-inch cake   IMG_1730

Ingredients

For the cake

1 scant cup of granulated white sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1.5 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

pinch of salt

2 large eggs

2 Tablespoons milk or cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract OR zest of one lemon

For the Streusal

1/4 cup granulated white sugar

1/4 cup light or dark brown sugar

1/4 cup almond flour (meal)

2 Tablespoons whole wheat flour

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

pinch of salt

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cold

2 cups of washed and picked over blueberries

Garnish

1 Tablespoon of sliced almonds

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or spray with cooking spray a 9-inch springform pan and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix all of the streusal ingredients except for the blueberries by hand. You want to have some lumps of coated butter. Once this is mixed, gently toss through the washed and dried blueberries and set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a standing mixer (you can do this by hand or in a processor, but the lightest results will be with a standing mixer), cream the butter and sugar.
  4. Add the eggs, vanilla, almond extract OR lemon zest, salt and cream and mix until light and fluffy. On low speed add the flour and mix thoroughly. Turn the speed up to medium high and mix for 3 minutes.
  5. Spread the mixture on the bottom of the prepared pan. This is not a very high cake. It does not need to be perfectly smooth on top – just try to make the thickness even.
  6. Pour the blueberry streusal mixture over the top and with your hand, gently spread it to evenly distribute things. Bake for about 1 hour. As soon as it is ready to come out of the oven, scatter the sliced almonds over the top, if using.
  7. Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then loosen the spring. Continue cooling the cake on a wire rack. When it is totally cool, you can remove the outer springform. With a very thin metal spatula, carefully loosen the cake from the bottom of the pan and place on a cake plate. IMG_1699

The cake will get moister and the flavors more pronounced  after sitting covered for a day. It’s good to go as soon as it cools, but for optimal flavor, make it the day before. Sometimes I dust it with confectioner’s sugar just before serving but it will seep into the berries over time.

Spinach Pie

IMG_1693We just returned from a wonderful family event in New York, seeing cousins I haven’t seen in far too long and also spending time with our Matthew and Frances. My husband and I were treated to Frances’ cooking and now we know first-hand why Matthew is so proud. Frances made brunch and we feasted on shakshuka, mango cucumber salad, homemade hummus and tahini cookies. My goodness it was delicious! Not only was this weekend a family affair but it also began the festival of Shavuot. Shavuot is when we commemorate the Jewish People receiving the ten commandments at Sinai. I remember celebrating in Israel on the kibbutz I was living on back in 1974. The young boys and girls danced in the wheat fields and it was very picturesque and evocative. I doubt that happens much, if at all, anymore but it is an image that has remained with me even though it took place over 40 years ago.

It is traditional to eat dairy meals on Shavuot and there are several different reasons given – everything from Israel being the land of milk and honey to laws of kashrut and gamatria (numerology.) Whatever the reason, it is a good time to make this delicious Spinach Pie.  And you definitely don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy it. Serve it with a simple  salad of Persian cucumbers, fennel and ripe tomatoes and crusty bread. You will never miss the meat.

Spinach Pie

Yield:  6 to 8  servings

Ingredients

16 ounces of fresh spinach

1.5 Tablespoons EVOO

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter OR 2 Tablespoons of additional EVOO

2 cups finely chopped onions (I used a mixture of red and yellow onions)

1 generous teaspoon minced garlic

2 bunches chopped scallions (white and light green parts only)

8 ounces crumbled feta cheese

15 ounces whole milk ricotta

1/4 cup grated parmesan, romano or asiago cheese

1/2 cup chopped fresh dill

1 bunch chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 cup lightly toasted pine nuts

Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste (Or use Aleppo pepper if you have it!)

Approximately 20 sheets of thawed phyllo dough

Approximately 1 stick melted unsalted butter or 1/2 cup EVOO

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Wash, drain well and chop spinach. If using baby spinach, there is no need to chop the spinach.
  3. Lightly beat the egg and yolk in a large bowl. Add the cheeses, dill, parsley, nutmeg, pine nuts, salt and pepper.
  4. Melt the 2 Tablespoons of butter and the EVOO in the skillet and sauté the onions, garlic and scallions until wilted. Do not allow the mixture to brown. Allow to cool slightly and add it to the egg and cheese mixture. IMG_1680
  5.  Sauté the spinach until it is wilted in the pan that had the onion mixture. I did not need to add any additional oil. If the spinach is very wet, place it in a fine-meshed strainer over a bowl and allow it to drain. Once it has cooled, press out as much liquid as possible either with your hands or by using the back of a spoon against the mesh. My spinach didn’t require this last step because I hadn’t added any additional oil or water.IMG_1682IMG_1683
  6. Mix everything well to distribute the seasonings, spinach and onions. IMG_1688
  7. Use a rectangular baking dish (approximately 9 x 13). Brush the bottom of the pan with either EVOO or melted butter and lay out 2 sheets of phyllo dough. Brush them with EVOO or butter and continue layering one to two sheets at a time until you have about 8 sheets. Then pour half of the spinach cheese mixture over the dough. Repeat the process and layer the remaining mixture. Top with 6 to 8 layers of phyllo dough that have been brushed with EVOO or melted butter. Don’t be stingy – this is what makes it flaky and golden. Refer to my baklava recipe for working with phyllo.
  8. After the spinach pie is ready for the oven, take a very sharp knife and cut down into the layers for the size piece that you want. I was able to get 12 pieces from this size pan. IMG_1689 (2)
  9. Place the baking dish in the oven and bake for approximately one hour or until golden brown. IMG_1691IMG_1692

Spaghetti with Tomatoes, Garlic and Basil

IMG_1677I know – it sounds so mundane. But sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that something so simple, with just the freshest ingredients can be so perfect – simple and satisfying. And let’s face it, life is complicated enough. I’m not breaking new ground here, but this is a dish that if made properly is as good as a pasta dish gets without any bells or whistles.

Beautiful ovoid Roma plum tomatoes are becoming available now and will only get better as the summer goes on. Fresh garlic and bright green basil leaves with a good olive oil and the best Parmigiano Reggiano. Treat yourself to a full-bodied red wine and a crusty loaf of bread. You’re done! Mangia!

Spaghetti with Tomatoes and Basil

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients   IMG_1653

6 large Roma Plum Tomatoes, cut in quarters lengthwise and then sliced into 1/2 inch chunks

2 Tablespoons chopped garlic

2 Tablespoons Evoo

1/3 cup salted pasta water

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

1/4 cup torn or chiffonaded green or purple basil

1 pound spaghetti rigati or fettucine

Directions

  1. Start cooking your pasta according to package directions for al dente.
  2. In a large skillet, heat the 2 Tablespoons of EVOO. Add the chopped garlic and about 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt. On medium heat saute the garlic for about 3 minutes. Do not allow the garlic to brown.
  3. Add the chopped tomatoes and about 10 cracks of fresh black pepper. Saute for another 5 to 8 minutes or just until the tomatoes are beginning to soften. Just before the pasta has finished cooking, take 1/3 cup of pasta water and add it to the pan with the tomatoes and garlic.
  4. Drain your pasta and pour it back into the pot. Pour the sauce over the pasta and cook on medium heat for one more minute.
  5. Portion out into bowls. Generously add the torn basil on top, drizzle some EVOO and grate the Parmigiano over that. Don’t be stingy. That’s it – you’re done. Now go eat!

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Bread Salad My Way

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I could give up many foods without a great sense of loss, but carbs – particularly bread – is not one of them. When the weather gets hot, my husband and I eat a lot of salads for dinner. We eat salad all of the time but in the summer months, instead of salads being a side, they are the main event. What follows isn’t really a recipe; it is more a method. There are almost infinite ways to vary the ingredients, as long as you keep the overall balance of flavors and textures intact.

I’ve read recipes where you soak day-old bread in water and squeeze out all of the liquid. I tried making panzanella that way and frankly prefer the way I do it. Why soak the bread in water when it can absorb all of the wonderful juices from ripe tomatoes? You can use almost any kind of good rustic bread. I happen to have bought a sourdough boule, but I have used multi-grain or whole wheat farmer-style breads successfully as well. Take whatever bread you choose and cut it into 2-inch dice. Place the bread on a baking sheet in a cold oven and heat the oven to 325 degrees F. When the oven comes to temperature, turn it off, but leave the bread in there, with the oven door closed, for at least 20 minutes or overnight. That will form the base of your salad. How much bread you use is really up to you. A half boule can easily feed 4 people.

Several hours before you are ready to serve the salad, place the dried bread cubes in a large bowl. We have entered farmer’s market season so getting beautiful heirloom tomatoes should not be a problem. You want LOTS as well as the lovely little Persian cucumbers, although the seedless English cucumbers will also work. I like to have a thinly sliced onion – yellow, Vidalia or red – and pitted olives and capers. Start cutting up the vegetables and layering them over the bread cubes in the bowl. Once you have these basics, you can play around. I made my salad up to this point and added in a few of the additional vegetables I mention below, set it on my counter, covered, until about 45 minutes before I am ready to serve. My other ingredients and the dressing will go on about 30 to 45 minutes ahead of serving and I will toss the salad. Tonight, I am using marinated cooked shrimp, but some times I use grilled, diced chicken or thinly sliced salami and coppa or jamon. If you want to go vegetarian, just use a good diced cheese – like a fontina or a sharp provolone, cut into small cubes or large julienne.

You will want LOTS of fresh herbs – the more the merrier. I bought some beautiful garlic chives at the farmer’s market on Tuesday, so I am adding lots of that and an entire bunch of flat-leaf parsley. I really enjoy the slightly anise taste of fennel as well as the bright green crunch it provides, so I will add both sliced stems or bulb and the feathery ends that look like dill. If you are not a fan of fennel, you can get the same basic texture by using celery or even Napa cabbage. I have marinated artichoke hearts, but sometimes I will add roasted peppers instead. I hope that you are getting the idea here that you can tailor the salad to your personal tastes and what is fresh and available. The end result should be as attractive to the eye as it is to the palate.

As I mentioned above, about 30 to 45 minutes before I plan on serving, I add my protein and dressing and toss the salad. I like to make a garlicky vinaigrette with fennel seed and some Dijon mustard, but use whatever you like – just make it yourself. When I am ready to plate the salad, I have a bed of arugula which I also picked up at the farmer’s market and which I lightly dress with a bit of my homemade dressing and I pile the bread salad on top. You need nothing more than a glass of a crisp white or Rose and maybe some fresh melon and cherries for dessert. If I have any leftovers, I eat them for lunch the next day. The weather is perfect and our terrace is blooming so tonight we dine al fresco!

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