Recipe: Deconstructed Gazpacho? Panzanella with Mozzarella and Herbs
Earlier this summer a group of my college friends got together for a reunion. Accentuating just how many years have passed since we graduated, conversation turned quickly to kids, jobs and, finally, cooking.
This came as a relief to me, because it turns out I’m not the only adult struggling with cooking.
What to make, how to cook it, having the right ingredients, planning ahead, pleasing all your eaters -- it's a bizarre intersection of overwhelming and boring, or fun and frightening. It seemed like we all felt equally inadequate as we shared favorite recipes and apps.
But we also all love to eat and keenly appreciate a great meal (here's a photo of the scrumptuous Japanese dinner in San Francisco's Noe Valley we were savoring when we had this conversation). I especially love how meals can bring people together and provide an excuse to linger and talk.
Case in point: When our waiter at the restaurant that night announced they didn't serve coffee (or desserts we were interested in), we still knew we wanted more time together.
We zipped down the hill to the Mission for unexpectedly delicious cappuccinos, tiramisu and cannoli at the only nearby place we could find open at that hour, a chic corner restaurant called Caffè Fiore.
Cooking, Conversation & Community
This enchanted evening and our conversation about cooking stuck with me as I went about the rest of my summer. When I got back home from my travels and faced an empty kitchen, I made the potentially rash decision to get serious about learning to cook.
The objective? To learn to enjoy the process as much as I enjoy the result of good cooking.
I may not know how to cook very well, but I do have other skills – namely, writing and teaching. Why not put those to use? Couldn't I try to teach myself in the kitchen and share the process with others by writing about it?
Journalists also know how to find the right sources, and you'll notice much of my cooking is inspired by the New York Times Cooking app. I need more sources, so I'm hoping you'll send me yours, dear reaters (readers who eat).
Because this blog is launched as more than just a place to share my adventures in the kitchen, I hope it can be a space to gather and share ideas, to celebrate successes and failures together and to commemorate what good food and great meals mean to us all.
Like long summer dinners with friends, I hope this endeavor inspires conversation and community.
My First Recipe
When I recently renewed my Cooking subscription, the first thing I searched for was summer salads. Eventually I settled on this one:
I can’t say I have much experience with Panzanella. Those of you who know me know I’ve lived many years in Spain, and this Italian dish (described by the recipe’s author as a “Tuscan bread salad”) has a lot in common with ingredients found in Spanish cooking. It’s basically a deconstructed gazpacho.
This is easily a dish my mother-in-law, Teófila, might have made versions of in the past. She used to deep-fry chunks of old baguette for the kids to dip in their hot chocolate or liven up their vegetable purees.
Teófila fed the whole family with love, but especially the kids. Here she is changing baby Teresa's life with a bite of ice cream during a hot summer in the village.
The NYT recipe calls for “preferably stale” baguette or ciabatta. Unfortunately, my fabulous local bakery is currently closed while they move locations.
On the up side (today only), most of the baguettes sold at the Safeway near my house are already stale.
Other ingredients include tomatoes, mozzarella, red onion and a bunch of fresh herbs. Really, what could go wrong?
A few things, it turns out.
For starters, I knew I had to make some adaptations if I hoped the kids would eat the salad. Take vinegar – they can smell it a mile away and won't touch the stuff. Similar reactions awaited the capers and cucumbers.
I opted to leave the capers out and tried to hide the cucumber by cutting it into tiny pieces.
I also left off the red pepper flakes because, okay, I forgot.
I probably cut the parsley and basil a little too finely, and I couldn't get the garlic to the paste-like substance they recommended, which meant small bits of garlic in occasional bites.
But just to be clear, this was totally fine by my palate.
Here's where the NYT might take issue with my rendition of their careful work...
I skipped the dressing entirely, instead sprinkling just olive oil, which is ubiquitous in our house.
On my own salad, I added sherry vinegar, which is my favorite (and, in my defense, is used in many gazpacho recipes). I put too much, which meant of course that I needed more bread chunks to soak it up. Right?
My final Panzanella with Mozzarella and Herbs is pictured below.
My daughter's first response: "Is there cucumber in this?" She admitted the salad wasn't her style but saw its appeal, especially the bread. Her friends, though, called it "amazing!" They're welcome back.
If you are familiar with Panzanella or have tried this recipe, do you think I made a mistake skipping the Dijon and red wine vinegar dressing?
Anyone have another bread and/or tomato salad recipe to share? What’s your favorite summer salad? I’d love to hear in the comments.
Meanwhile, you can find me at the fridge, picking the bread and cheese out of the remaining salad.