- Do you love the word “panzanella?” It’s beautiful, isn’t it? As a musician, the sound of it brings a sweet pitch to mind… and a drawing out of the eh of “ella,” with a tad of dipthong present… a big no-no for singers. So it goes something like, “pahnzahnayhhhhhhlllahhh….” Maybe to you, it doesn’t have such a ringing tone. Maybe, to you, it sounds like one of Cinderella’s stepsisters. But you also might wonder what in the world is panzanella, much less olive panzanella. I never heard of olive panzanella either, but I made it.
Ok; here goes: Pane is bread in Italian…. Panzanella is a dish made with Tuscan bread that is a day old (Oh what lovely things we do with day-old bread…) and traditionally is made with tomatoes, basil, onions, cucumbers and olive oil. I am a twister and turner of “traditional” dishes, adding what I have in my pantry or frig and making them into traditional Colorado Springs dishes. After all, I am not in Tuscany; I am blessed to eat Marigold’s bread in Colorado Springs… and I am without cucumbers as I am rapidly paring down my frig to be away from home for two months. (More on that later.) My basil (all four plants) promptly died after planting, but I do have thyme… and there was still parsley in my veg drawer. Closer inspection (read that cleaning out) of the middle shelf led me to olives stuffed with garlic leftover from my daughter’s graduation party. Et voila, olive panzanella. Things that grow together go together, is the saying.
This is a wonderful meal to serve in the summer when tomatoes (and basil if you make it the typical Italian way) are full, ripe, round and warmly fragrant. It is perhaps a tish early in the season, particularly in Colorado, to make it now, but hey, I had the tomatoes and went for it. You can substitute some dried thyme (1/2 if) for the fresh if you have to, but try to use the fresh parsley at least. I think you could be absolutely inventive with your veg. (beans, asparagus?)
So turn your eyes to heaven, breathe deeply and shrug your shoulders back squarely before you say the best grace you can before this meal begins (and afterward, too, if you are a Jew); it is one for which to be very thankful. Being grateful, as a way of life, is healthy, I think, for me. Maybe for you, too. A great practice. This meal is simple, fast, even frugal and still feeling decadent. Oooo. (Lower your eyebrows and pucker up big when you “ooooo.”)
One note about the olive oil. Don’t skimp on the oil for your dressing. First of all, make your own dressing and you’ll save money not having to BUY bottled dressings (check the ingredients sometime), have great salads and not ruin costly veg. Many homemade dressings do store for several days or more. When folks talk about what a great salad that was, it was usually because 1. the ingredients were fresh and 2. so was the salad dressing. I use, for dressings, Olio Santo (California.) For cooking, I use whatever Olive Oil (not EVOO) is on sale.
To taste dressing, get a little piece of lettuce from frig and dip very lightly a teense into the dressing. Good? Bad? Salty? Oily? Vinegary? Adjust one of these and try again. Better? Worse? Bland? Needs zing? (try a drop or two of Tabasco)
Wine: Why not go the whole Italian way and sip a Chiani Classico? On the other hand, there’s hardly anything better than California Zinfandel with sausage. Neither are expensive, though you can find expensive examples if you want to.
If you have become a recent lover of wine, find a wine shop in which you’re comfortable (where the help is approachable and helpful) and frequent it. Make yourself a customer and get to know the wine people there so that you’re comfortable going in and asking for “a zinfandel under $15.00.” Not everyone can afford expensive wines often. I think of it like this: every day wine, weekend wine, birthday wine, graduation wine, etc. The numbers are then not so staggering. Besides, if you’re cooking at home, my friend, you’re already saving your bucks. Buying decent wine OUT is really a lot more; drink it at home. “Better wine and better food at home” is the phrase we use to not eat out.
Dessert: Semifreddo Espresso. Brew 2 cups of espresso. Pour a ½ cup each over each of 4 cups of vanilla ice cream. Use gorgeous small lotus bowls. Smile.
Make the meal bigger for company: Add a cheese plate and/or a first course soup.
Sausages: 4 fresh Italian sausage links and ¼ c Dijon mustard
Place mustard in a small serving bowl and set aside. Fill a 4 qt. saucepan half full with water. Add sausages and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat and simmer sausages about 5 minutes to cook off some of the fat. Remove from water and grill over medium heat until crispy brown. Set aside, covered.
12” Baguette, cut into 1-2” chunks (stale is good; new will still work)
1-2T olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly black ground pepper
1 each: red, yellow and green bell (sweet) peppers, cut into 1” dice
½ med red onion, slivered
2 lrg or 3 medium ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/8s
½ c sliced green olives stuffed with garlic
2T capers (chopped finely if the large ones)
½ c fresh parsley, minced, plus 2-3 sprigs for garnish
2-3 t fresh thyme leaves
Dressing: (You’ll use it all.)
1 T Dijon mustard
3 T red wine vinegar
½ t garlic, minced
½ c (8T) extra-virgin olive oil, best quality
½ t Kosher salt
¼ t Freshly ground black pepper
Heat olive oil over low-medium heat with a dusting of salt and pepper. Add cut-up bread and brown slowly, toasting evenly and tossing with tongs for 5-10 minutes until golden.
Meantime, make salad dressing in a large bowl. Whisk the mustard, vinegar and garlic together. Add oil slowly, whisking still, until shiny and somewhat opaque. Season with salt and pepper. Add chopped vegetables and herbs. Season once again. Add toasted bread and stir gently, but thoroughly. Let sit 10-15 minutes. Garnish with parsley. Serve with sausages topped with the Dijon mustard.
Eat all of the salad; it doesn’t keep.
Here’s the Gabster, still looking good from
her day at the groomer’s.
Sing a new song,
P.S. Re being gone: I move to St. Paul ( temporarily) this Saturday for two months to do some graduate work in liturgical music at University of St. Thomas. I’ll also be within walking distance of a hugging group of old cooking friends…… Move with me and keep up on the blog, which will feature SUMMER IN THE CITY food and HOW TO COOK AWAY FROM HOME IN A FURNISHED (NO GOOD KNIVES; NO CUISINART) KITCHEN WITH A GREAT NEIGHBORHOOD FOR GROCERIES AND THE BEST FARMERS’ MARKETS……..