Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Panzanella for a Summer Dinner

Last night I cooked our very first "real meal" at our new house. One of the few cookbooks I brought north with us from California is Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking." I made just a few dishes out of it but so far I have been very impressed. Some recipes are very simple and easy while others are quite involved. They all taste great though. Here's our menu from last night, a perfect Italian summer dinner for 4 (mostly) from Hazan's cookbook: 

Summer Italian Supper: 
Panzanella - Bread Salad pg. 554
Green Bean Salad pg. 557
Pan-Roasted Chicken with Rosemary, Garlic, and White Wine pg. 329
Lemon Poppy-Seed Gelato from "Making Artisan Gelato" by Torrance Kopfer
If you haven't had a panzanella salad before you really are missing out. It's a classic Italian creation which includes pieces of stale bread along with the vegetables. The bread soaks in the juice from the tomatoes and also the vinegary dressing and is so delicious! 

Panzanella - Bread Salad
Adapted from Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking"

1/2 garlic clove 
2 to 3 anchovy fillets 
1 tablespoon capers 
1/4 yellow sweet bell pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar 
2 cups firm, good bread
3 fresh, ripe, firm, round tomatoes
1 cup cucumber, peeled and diced into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 medium onion, preferably a sweet variety such as Vidalia, Bermuda Red, or Maui
black pepper 

1. Start by preparing the bread. First slice the bread and trim off the crusts, then toast the bread under the broiler, and finally, cut it it into 1/2 inch squares (reserve the crumbs to add to the salad) {You'll want to keep a very close eye on your bread while you're broiling it, I got a bit distracted with the onions and burnt my first batch of bread to a crisp! Yikes!}

2. Prepare the onions. Start by slicing them into very thin rings. 

{Marcella describes a great way to tone down the harsh bite of the onions so that they add just a bit of that special oniony flavor to the salad but don't overpower it. The process takes some time but in the end I doubt if even the avid onion haters in your audience would object to their addition.}

Once you have sliced the onions, put them in a bowl and cover them with cold water. Using your hand, fish around in the bowl a bit and grasp as many onions as you can. Squeeze them firmly for 2 - 3 seconds before releasing them. Repeat this squeezing routine 7 or 8 times. As you do this, acid from the onions will be released into the water which will make it a bit cloudy. 

Once the onions have been squeezed and released 7 to 8 times, dump them into a colander to strain out the water before returning them to the bowl and repeating the entire squeezing and straining process another 2 to 3 times. 

After squeezing the onion for the last time, strain the onion slices and add new water again. Let the onions soak for 10 minutes before straining them and replacing the water. Continue this process at least 3 more times (for a total of at least 30 minutes soaking time) or until you are ready to make the salad. 

Before adding the onion to the salad, squeeze the onion tightly in a clean towel to remove as much moisture as possible. 

{By the end, your onions will look something like this:}

3. While your onions are soaking, begin to prepare the salad dressing. Start by mashing the garlic, anchovies, and capers against the side of the serving bowl using a wooden spoon (or in a separate bowl using a mortar and pestle) until they have been mashed into a pulp. {This step can also be done in a food processor, but if you do the mashing in the serving bowl you will keep every last bit of yummy flavoring to add to the salad.}

4. Clean and chop the yellow bell pepper into 1/4 inch pieces. Add the bell pepper, salt, olive oil, vinegar (and the anchovy garlic mixture if it isn't already there) to the serving bowl and toss thoroughly. 

5. Put the bread squares, along with any crumbs from the trimming into a small bowl. Purée 1 of the tomatoes through a food mill over the bread. Toss and let it steep, together with a little salt, for 15 minutes or more. 

{Unfortunately I left our food mill down in California. It is especially unfortunate since I have only used it once since I bought it and I would have loved to get the chance to use it again. However, I made do with a mesh strainer. It wasn't too much fun, but I cut the tomato into wedges and then rubbed and pressed them against the strainer over the bread until I got out as much of the juice as I could. In retrospect, I probably just should have juiced the tomato using the juicer which I did bring up from California and then poured the juice over the bread. Oh well, I'll just have to do that next time.}

6. Cut up the tomatoes into 1/2-inch pieces, picking out some of the seeds if there are too many.  {Marcella instructs us to first peel them using a swiveling-blade peeler which I suppose is more authentic, but that just seemed like way too much work to me so I left the skins on.} Add them to the serving bowl along with the cucumber. 

{I finished my salad up to this point several hours before dinner so I left the bread in a separate bowl because it didn't want it to get too soggy before dinner. Some bread sogginess in the panzanella is quite desirable, but I don't like the bread to fall apart altogether. If you want to make the salad ahead of time, this is a great place stop and wait until just before eating to finish assembling. I just layered the bowls on top of each other and left them in the fridge.}

7. Add the soaked bread squares and the onions to the vegetable and dressing mixture. If desired, finish with several grindings of black pepper. Toss thoroughly, taste and correct for seasoning, and serve. 

{Yum! I think this is one of my absolute favorite salads for a hot summer evening!}

Green Bean Salad 
Adapted from Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking"

This is a very quick easy way to make a simple but delicious summer side dish. 

1 pound green beans
extra virgin olive oil
red wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice {I used lemon juice}

1. Snap the ends off of the beans and soak them in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes. 

2. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt. Once the water returns to a full boil, add the drained green beans and adjust the heat until a moderate boil is reached. The cooking time will vary depending on the age of the beans. Begin testing at 6 minutes. Drain when firm, but tender, when they have lost their raw, vegetal taste.

3. Put the beans in a serving bowl, add salt and toss once. Pour enough olive oil over them to give them a glossy coat. 

4. Add a dash of vinegar or lemon juice. Toss thoroughly, taste and correct seasoning. Serve while still lukewarm. 

Pan-Roasted Chicken with Rosemary, Garlic, and White Wine

{This is now one of my favorite ways to cook a chicken. It is very easy and once it gets started you will have plenty of time to work on your side dishes as it cooks along on the stove. I've found the overall prep time to be about 1 1/2 hours but most of that is just the cooking time. It's so easy and so delicious!!!}

1 tablespoon butter 
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
A 3 1/2 pound chicken, cut into 4 pieces 
2 to 3 garlic cloves, peeled 
1 sprig fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves 
black pepper 
1/2 cup dry white wine 

1. Put the butter and oil in sauté pan, turn on the heat to medium high, and when the butter foam begins to subside, put in the chicken quarters, skin side down. 

2. Brown the chicken well on both sides, then add the garlic and rosemary. {Be sure to be very careful when flipping the chicken. It can spatter quite dreadfully and I currently have two round splotches of burns on my arm where I'm recovering from receiving a rather large splatter. A splatter guard would be quite helpful here.} Cook the garlic until it becomes colored a pale gold, and add salt, pepper, and the wine. Let the wine simmer briskly for about 30 seconds, then adjust heat to cook at a slow simmer, and put a lid on the pan, setting it slightly ajar. Cook until the bird's thigh feels very tender when prodded with a fork, and the meat comes easily off the bone, calculating between 20 and 25 minutes per pound. {I always like to test my chicken with a meat thermometer to make sure I've killed off all the nasty salmonella bugs. To do so the meat needs to reach at least 165 degrees F. I usually allow my chicken to get a bit hotter, just because I like to make sure it's safe.} If while the chicken is cooking, you find the liquid in the pan has become insufficient, replenish it with 1 or 2 tablespoons water as needed. 

3. When done, transfer the chicken to a warm serving platter, using a slotted spoon or spatula. {I like to use tongs.} Remove the garlic from the pan. Tip the pan, spooning off all but a little of the fat. Turn the heat up to high, and boil the water away while loosening the cooking residues from the bottom and sides with a wooden spoon. Pour the pan juices over the chicken and serve at once. 


Here's a little picture of the place setting I used for our first dinner up here in Bellingham. This is one of my favorite tablecloths which shows up again and again. We got it as a wedding present from some of Woodley's family members and I absolutely adore it! Woodley was very excited to see the sunflower plates come out again. We haven't used them in a long time but wed decided to bring them up with us. It made a very cheery little dinner. :)

Hopefully I'll soon be cooking again as I break in our new kitchen! 


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