The great thing about Italian food is it’s EASY! There’s usually less than 5 ingredients (not including salt, pepper and olive oil which are kind of a given for everything) and there’s not a lot of fancy-shmancy technique!
One thing that was new for me in Italy were seasons! It’s been wonderful to experience a true fall, winter and spring (although, in my opinion, we could skip summer). It was also great to discover that foods change with the seasons. Now at most supermarkets, just like in the US, you can find bananas, apples and oranges all throughout the year, but go to a pizzeria in the middle of winter and you ask for basil on your pizza, you’re s.o.l.! It’s not in season, it’s not fresh, therefore, it’s not available. What a concept! To go from everything always being available any day of the year to actually being denied something because it wasn’t ‘in season’ was something I immediately loved and admired. It’s something I’ve fully adopted (it’s easy to do here) and fully plan to stick to on my return to California (where, thankfully, this is easily adaptable).
I made this a few days ago which, apparently, was the last hot day of the year because it feels like autumn is in full swing today! But basil is still abondante and the one thing I like about the summer is the yummy, light food…so without further adieu… here’s how to make panzanella…
Prep Time: start to finish, max 20 minutes
Servings: this serves 2 if it’s a piatto unico (main dish) and 4 if it’s used as a contorno (side dish)
dairy-free, vegan friendly
*just off the bat…Italians eyeball EVERYTHING, so don’t worry about having precise measurements, just kinda throw everything in (maybe under-do it) and then adjust according to taste -obviously going light on the salt and oil until the end.
– one baguette, stale (actually that’s why I made this the other day- completely forgot to use it while it was fresh)
–half a cumcumber, thinly sliced-you can remove the skin if you’d like
–half an onion, finely diced, preferably tropea if you can get your hands on them (they are these amazing sweet, mild onions that come from Calabria-the toe of Italy- that you can eat raw no problem…I’m kind of obsessed…please tell me they have them-or at least sell the seeds in California)! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropea#Tropea_onions
–3 cups worth of chopped heirloom tomatoes (whatever kind you’d like)
–3-4 fresh basil leaves
~1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (again, eyeballing is key)
–3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
–salt and pepper to taste
Step one: soak the bread in water (just submerged) for about 10 minutes. Some prefer 15, but I don’t like it to get too soggy. Squeeze out all remaining water from bread and put the ‘mush’ you’ve created in a bowl. *I’ve seen my friend Megan use dried bread/croutons instead and it came out just as good.
Step Two: chop/slice up your cucumber, onion, tomatoes and basil leaves and add to the bread. *A huge time-saver is using a mandolin on the onion and cucumber-it’s my go-to kitchen tool!
Step Three: Dress the salad with the olive oil and red wine vinegar, add the salt and peper and you’re ready to eat! You can always stick it in the fridge for an hour to make sure it’s nice and cool!(see…told you it was easy!)