Caffe e Cucina

Eating outside, al fresco, is one of the rituals I look forward to most when springs folds into summer . The weather so far has been like a mild summer in San francisco, unusual for Atlanta, as typically warm days are ripe with mosquitos and humidity.
The sky is big and the breeze brushes its self against the day just often enough to provide a quick cooling in direct sun.
I try to eat out of doors as often as possible. This morning, we planted ourselves at a local cafe next to the farmer's market. Although we had just shopped at the market and had a basket filled with fresh strawberries and mint, caciatore salumi sausage and fresh pecorino, and a jar of blackberry jam, we decided to idle away the late morning and have someone else cook breakfast for us. A foamy caffe latte and frittata with sweet potatoes , sausage and fresh herbs.
The neighborhood mallard duck waddled on by to see what was on the menu and decided that she would rather take a one-legged nap in the shade under the bistro chair. Every once in a while, her quacking would startle our little puppy, and then they would both ignore each other and settle back into their quiet rest.

Off home we's menu inspired by our market cucumbers and bread. Panzanella. It requires no cooking, other than toasting the bread and is perfect for an outdoor light lunch or side dish to a easy summer meal with grilled chicken. Traditionally, Panzanella, or bread salad, is made with stale bread that is soften in water, then squeezed dry and torn apart and tossed into the salad. My version cuts fresh or day old bread into cubes, tosses them with extra virgin olive oil and toasts them until golden brown and tossed with the traditional vegetable accompaniements. I like the crunchy texture, made slightly soft by a robust cabernet wine vinegar dressing.

Panzanella Bread Salad
4 cups toasted bread croutons
1 cup diced English or lemon cucumber
½ cup diced red onion
½ cup sliced radishes
1 cup olives pitted and cut into halves
{any combination of Italian or kalamata olive varietals}
1 cup heirloom tomatoes {I like a nice variety of grape or pear tomatoes cut in half as well as larger tomatoes cut into a large dice}.
1/2 cup torn fresh milk mozzarella pieces
6-8 torn fresh basil leaves

To Make Croutons:
Cut italian bread, such as foccacia or ciabatta, into slices, then into 1 inch cubes. Toss lightly with extra virgin olive oil.
Bake in 350 degree oven just until golden brown ,about 10-12 minutes. {Since foccacia is typically made with olive oil, you wont need to add anymore before baking if you are using that type of bread}. Let cool and store in a cool dry place until ready to use. You can bake these ahead.

To make vinaigrette:
½ cup red wine vinegar {for a sweeter dressing, use less vinegar}
1 tbsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. Olive pesto {optional}
Whisk together vinegar, salt, pepper and olive oil until emulsified.

Toss all salad ingredients just until combined. Pour vinaigrette over salad and toss until all ingredients are coated. Serve with a dollop of Bella Cucina Olive pesto {optional, of course, but incredibly delicious addition!}
Let sit for 5-10 minutes until vinaigrette is absorbed and croutons begin to soften.

Buon appetito!

copyright 2007

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