Change of Pace: Panzanella

The high temperatures that we have in Raleigh keep me indoors more that I would like. The thermometer on my kitchen counter tells me it’s 99 degrees outside as I write this at 4 pm.

Our home is comfortably cool so I could just knuckle down and write my weekly post that is due tomorrow.  However, I am just procrastinating as usual and I can’t think of anything to write about.

I need a change of pace. I love food and, sometimes love cooking, so rather than write about nursing and nursing problems and aging and aging problems and my book, I will post my favorite summer salad recipe, Panzanella.

Panxanella

Panzanella. My Italian grandmother made this salad but I never heard the word Panzanella growing up. Grandma just cut up tomatoes and left-over bread and occasionally served the salad at Sunday family dinners. One course of many.

Panzanella is perfect for hot weather and the best use for tomatoes, which are now plentiful at our farmer’s markets. I like the heirloom German Johnson tomatoes.german johnson tomato

This year, I have a bumper crop of basil in the Earthbox* outside our screened porch. The cucumber and green peppers come from the Earthboxes that my grandson and I planted in his backyard. Every year he chooses what to plant. I am hoping this encourages him to like vegetables but so far it hasn’t. Oh well.

I use a leftover baguette from Yellow Dog bakery. Yellow Dog makes the best baguettes in the area. Get a good quality bread.

yellow dog baguette

For the salad:

1- or 2-day-old crusty baguette, cut into 1-inch cubes, about 5 to 6 cups

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/2-inch thick

2 bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes

1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

1/2 cup coarsely chopped basil leaves

3 tablespoons capers, drained

For the vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon finely minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons Champagne or red wine vinegar

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

 

For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together.

In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, red onion, basil, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper. Let the salad sit for an hour for the flavors to blend.

This salad will be good the next day or two as the ingredients blend together and the taste becomes richer.

 

*Earthbox is a container gardening system to use when you have limited space and little interest in working a large plot.

Growing Older – On Turning 77

My friend, Lois, turns 77 and shares her thoughts on celebrating her birthday without her husband, Marv, and cooking a dinner for her family.

Write Along with Me

“Can I help you?“ a butcher yelled from a packaged meat display.

A few feet away, I was standing, clueless, in front of an impressive array of glass-encased chunks of red meat. “Yes, I guess,” I bellowed back. When he was situated across from me, I asked, “How many pounds of a chuck roast do I need to serve six adults?”

“About three and a half.”

“How long would I have to bake it in the oven?”

After he outlined exact hours and temperatures, I gushed my thanks. “It will be the first roast I’ve made in forty-seven years; I want to impress my family.” After no response, I added, “I’ll take about four pounds; I’ll want left overs.”

As excited as I was to purchase this $25.00 piece of thick, marbled and bladed meat, his bland facial expression told me he was not interested in why it was the…

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Happy Lasagna Day

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My husband and I are spending Thanksgiving alone—by choice. We had been invited out but graciously declined.

After having three sets of houseguests in six weeks, we are happy to be alone. By the way, the house has never been cleaner.

And we broke from the traditional Thanksgiving dinner—we are having lasagna.

lasagna

I love leftover lasagna as much or more than leftover turkey, stuffing and gravy.

 

Over the years lasagna has become the ubiquitous casserole. You can find it premade in deli departments and frozen food cases in grocery stores. It’s the go-to meal neighbors bring over to neighbors on happy occasions (childbirth) and solemn occasions (sickness or death in the family).

My love of lasagna goes back to my childhood when we visited Grandma in Jersey City. She lived in a second floor walk-up two blocks from my house. Who remembers what time she got up in the morning to begin cooking the lasagna and the rest of the meal, including homemade bread and a roasted chicken? As for the lasagna, she made the pasta from scratch. The tomato sauce (we called this gravy) simmered for hours on the stove. She used whole-milk ricotta and mozzarella cheeses that were made fresh at the Italian store down the block.

Being the oldest granddaughter, I sometimes helped by assembling the multiple layers of the dish. First the sauce, the pasta in one layer, a few spoonfuls of cheese mixture (ricotta, parmesan, eggs, oregano and parsley), sliced mozzarella, more sauce/gravy and then I started over again finishing with the mozzarella on top.

If the family ever had turkey for Thanksgiving, I don’t remember.

In Grandma’ s cramped kitchen the men ate first—Grandma’s three sons, her five sons-in law and Grandpa. My cousins and I sat at the “children’s table” that was cobbled together with end tables and folding chairs. The women served and cleared and eventually sat down to dinner with the windows open to let out the steam from the kitchen along with the delicious aromas of the Italian Thanksgiving feast.

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So this Thanksgiving I am thankful for the usual, although not insignificant blessings, such as health, family, friends, but also for the memories that warm me and bring me back to Grandma’s table laden with her gifts and in the company of my extended family—some long gone but not forgotten.

Wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving and joyful memories.

LOVE OF FOOD

As I continue editing my book (I’m a tiny bit behind schedule), I am adding more food references. Food has always had a hold on me. Growing up in both Italian and Polish traditions, the fabric of my childhood was knitted with gustatory delights. Food meant comfort and caring.

italian-familyOne repast I’ll never forget was the first time my husband-to-be visited my Italian Grandma’s second floor apartment in Jersey City. At our traditional Sunday mid-afternoon meal, italian-feastthe men ate first. After the men, the children were served. Lastly, the women sat, ate and then washed the dishes—a paternalist, ethnic ritual I rebelled against at the time, only now to look back with pure nostalgia.

Grandma and my aunts, Ann, Jennie, Pam and Anna and their sister-in-law Chris, served. That day, I sat with the men beside Ernie, American hot-dog and hamburger aficionado, at the table in the cramped, hot kitchen. There wasn’t a dining room. He had seconds of the bean soup and the pasta with tomato sauce and slathered butter on Grandma’s freshly baked bread. He had an awakening when the meat course arrived. crusty-italian-bread_1I remember Uncle Mickey commenting on Ernie’s voracious appetite. Salad and cheese followed. Ernie’s intake dwindled.

After espresso, my uncles left to smoke cigars in the front parlor. Ernie staggered behind them as Grandma smiled with delight over how much he had eaten. A good appetite was paramount to sainthood.

My book covers a time in the early ‘80s when I worked as a nurse practitioner in a clinic on the west side of Chicago. I could walk to a Polish deli for the foods of my childhood on my mother’s side: kielbasa, kielbasapierogi and babka. (A good appetite at a Polish table also ranked next to godliness.)

I found a hole-in-the-wall Mexican Restaurant. There I fell in love with a soup crammed with a hunk of corn and a whole chicken breast. Mexican Chicken SoupIn that blue-collar neighborhood, I often stopped at a take-out stand specializing in greasy fries and Chicago red hots. All part of my immersion into community nursing. I was eating my way into appreciation of my clientele’s way of life.

Now as I write, I’m relishing the memories.