Seeing red, and what to do about it: Panzanella

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Above: One of my panzanella salads. This one has cucumber and white beans in there too.

About this time of year, gardeners (and their lucky friends) are becoming awash in lovely ripe tomatoes. And once you’ve made multiple salsas and pasta sauces, and your freezer is full, well, it’s time to put a little panzanella into your life.

Panzanella is best described as a tomato-bread salad, originating in Italy. (I’ve also seen it called Tuscan bread salad.) “Bread salad” may sound a little strange, but I can assure you that it’s delicious — and a cooling change of pace, especially in hot weather.

To make panzanella, you need good, sturdy bread, preferably a bit stale. Italian or French or country white bread are all good choices. You can probably find a suitable loaf on the day-old rack at your local bakery or grocery store. If not, you can slice or tear a fresh loaf into chunks or cubes, leave it out for a few hours to stale a bit, and then use it. (I’ve even toasted my bread chunks to get them dry in a hurry.) If the bread is a bit dry, it won’t get overly soggy as it soaks up the tomato juices.

You’ll also need two or three large, juicy-ripe tomatoes; about three tablespoons each of olive oil and vinegar (I like red-wine or balsamic); about a quarter-cup of thinly sliced red onion; a clove or two of garlic, chopped or put through a press or microplane grater; and some fresh basil would be nice. (If you only have dried basil, it will work too. But really, you should have some fresh basil on hand! It’s summertime in California!)

Here’s how to make it: Cut or tear about half your loaf of bread into bite-size chunks or cubes. Put them in a large salad bowl. (Some people moisten the bread with water beforehand, then squeeze it out and proceed. Others drizzle the cubes with olive oil and bake them, cooling them before adding to the salad. I prefer the simpler method of letting my tomatoes do the moistening.)

Cut the tomatoes into chunks and pour them and all their juices over the bread. Add the olive oil and vinegar (or use a bottled Italian dressing), the onions and the basil — about a half-dozen shredded leaves if you have fresh, a half-teaspoon of dried if you don’t — mix it all up, and add salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste.

You can let your panzanella sit at room temperature if you’ll be eating it within an hour or so; otherwise, refrigerate it until serving, especially if you’ve added meat and cheese to it.

What I like about panzanella is that it takes so well to leftovers and improvisation. Don’t have red onion? Use white ones, or sliced green onions. Can’t live without chopped celery? Go ahead and add it. How about those leftover beans from the other night? Sure, toss them in, along with some black or green olives. If you prefer the taste of fresh thyme or parsley to basil, go for it.

Other foods that play well in panzanella:

— Diced ham, salami, Canadian bacon, or regular cooked crumbled bacon;

— Diced cheese, like mozzarella or provolone;

— More vegetables, like radishes, artichoke hearts, bell peppers, garbanzo beans, green beans, shredded carrots, fresh peas, cooked edamame.

Using about a half-loaf of bread should give you three to four side-dish servings, or two large dinner-size servings. Leftovers make a nice lunch on top of a bed of lettuce the next day. (And you’ll have turned your bread salad into a salad salad!)

When you’re ready to serve the panzanella, the bread chunks should be nicely chewy and moist. If they seem dry, add a tomato, or more dressing.

This just in (to my brain, that is): I bet you could create a Mexican-flavored panzanella by using cilantro instead of basil, a chopped jalapeno pepper, black beans instead of white, and about a half-cup of canned (or fresh) corn. Add cubed Monterey jack cheese or your favorite Mexican cheese, and sprinkle with a few crushed tortilla chips.

Or even Greek-style: Lemon juice instead of vinegar, plus black olives and chunked peeled cucumber; canned tuna instead of ham or salami; feta cheese; and flavor with oregano instead of basil.

That’s the beauty of panzanella. There’s no one way to make it, and it can be different every time, depending on how you feel and what’s in the fridge. What a perfect summertime dish! Enjoy!

P.S. Got variations? Share them in the comments, please!

(c) Copyright Laura Groch 2013

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A Sunny encounter at the Farmers Market

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Gluten free chocolate chip cookie cups from Sunnyside Kitchen. (Courtesy photo)

Tuesday is farmers market day in Escondido, and there’s almost always a new discovery each week. I was pleased recently to encounter a former co-worker from the North County Times, Kate Carpenter, staffing a booth for her business, Sunnyside Kitchen. Kate offers bite-size cookies, muffins and cakes, and has recently added panini, grilled to order by her husband, Bob. Varieties include Gourmet Grilled Cheese, BBQ Chicken Grilled Cheese, and Vegetarian Mediterranean; prices are $5 to $9. The bite-sized cookies (such as Chocolate Delights, with white chocolate chips and pecans) are $2 for a half-dozen. Gluten-free cookies (like the chocolate chip cookie cups, pictured) are twice as big, so those are 3 for $2. (And she’s got Buckeyes for order through the website!) If you can’t make it to the Tuesday market, try Sundays at the North San Diego Farmers Market at Sikes Adobe across from Westfield North County mall in Escondido. Kate’s cookies are also available at Rock n’ Jenny’s Italian Subs; Diego’s Place; Major Market Escondido; Kettle Coffee & Tea; and Orfila Winery. Visit sunnysidekitchen.com or email sunnysidekitchen@gmail.com!

End of the fair, but recipes keep coming!

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Above: Winners in the Ghirardelli Chocolate Championship contest: Todd Luallen (left) of San Marcos, Rozanne Gooding of Carlsbad, Cathy Agostino of El Cajon(Courtesy photo)

The San Diego County Fair wraps up today, July 4. If you weren’t able to visit, you can share in the fun with some winning recipes from the fair’s cooking contests. Check these out:

Winners of the Pillsbury Pie Baking Championship: First: Peggy Linberg of Upland, Bali Hai Pie; second, Alberta Dunbar of San Diego, Three Times the Chocolate Fantasy Pie; third, Rozanne Gooding of Carlsbad, Rosie’s Rockin’ Rhubarb Pie; Top Savory Pie: Sarah Tackett of Vista, Savory Chicken & Mushroom Pie

Here’s Sarah Tackett’s winning recipe in the Savory category:

Savory Chicken and Mushroom Pie

Crust:

1 package Pillsbury Pie Crusts

Filling:

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 onion, roughly chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 pound mushrooms, sliced

4 slices bacon, cooked

3 cups chicken, cooked and chopped

1/2 cup parsley, chopped

1 can (10.5 ounces) cream of chicken soup, condensed

1 cup chicken broth

Topping:

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 9-inch pie pan with 1 Pillsbury pie crust. Combine butter, onion and garlic in large skillet; cook until ingredients are soft. Add mushrooms and cook 5 minutes more. Add bacon, chicken, parsley, cream of chicken soup and chicken broth. Stir until thoroughly combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Fill lined pie pan with chicken and mushroom mixture. Top with remaining pie crust; brush top with egg and water mixture. Bake pie at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.

Ghirardelli Chocolate Championship winners: First: Rozanne Gooding of Carlsbad, “Berry Easy” Black & White Chocolate Truffle Cups; second: Cathy Agostino of El Cajon, Carmel Macchiato Napoleon; third: Todd Luallen of San Marcos, Chetzels

Here’s the recipe for Todd Luallen’s “Chetzels”:

Chetzels 

2 cups peanut butter

1/2 cup butter

2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut

2 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 bag (14 ounces) pretzel crisps

1 bag (10 ounces) Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Chips

Combine peanut butter, butter, coconut, powdered sugar and vanilla in a bowl. Mix well. Take two pretzels and put a tablespoon of the mixture in between, creating a sandwich. Melt Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate on the stove over low heat, stirring constantly. Dip bottom of the sandwich in melted chocolate. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Yields: 24 Chetzels.

Bisquick Family Favorites Recipe Contest winners: First: Alberta Dunbar of San Diego, Chorizo Nuggets With Creamy Salsa; second: Susan Christen of Oceanside, Rosemary Madeira Baked Brie; third: Heidi Russell of Oceanside, “Pressed” for “Thyme” Chicken & Dumplings

Here are Alberta Dunbar’s and Susan Christen’s recipes:

Chorizo Nuggets With Creamy Salsa Dip 

Nuggets:

3 cups Bisquick mix

1 tablespoon Mexican seasoning

1 cup medium cheddar cheese, shredded and diced

1 pound chorizo, cooked and drained well, cooled

1 can (14.75 ounces) creamed corn

1/2 cup milk

32 small pitted black olives, well drained

Creamy Salsa:

1 package (8 ounce) cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup sour cream

2 teaspoons Mexican seasoning

8 ounces medium heat salsa

Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In large bowl, combine Bisquick mix and Mexican seasoning; mix well with wooden spoon. Add cheddar cheese and chorizo; mix well. In small bowl, combine creamed corn and milk. Fold corn mixture into Bisquick mixture, blending well. Using a well-rounded spoonful for each, form 16 nuggets out of the Bisquick mixture and place on the prepared cookie sheet, 4 nuggets to a row. Press an olive in the center of each nugget and press all the way down so dough fully covers the olive. Bake 12 to 13 minutes until golden brown. Remove to cooling rack. Prepare remaining nuggets for baking while first set bakes.

For Creamy Salsa, combine cream cheese and sour cream in medium bowl. Beat well with electric mixer until smooth. Add Mexican seasoning and blend. Beat in salsa until blended. Cover and chill. Salsa is best made overnight or early in the day. Serve nuggets with warm salsa dip. Yields: 32 nuggets.

Rosemary Madeira Baked Brie

1 1/2 cups Bisquick mix

2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary (or dry)

1/4 cup Madeira wine

1/4 cup evaporated milk

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease small jelly-roll pan. Whisk Bisquick mix and rosemary together. Set aside. Mix Madeira and evaporated milk. Stir into dry ingredients until soft dough forms. Knead 10 times. Halve the dough into 2 balls. Roll each into 8-inch circle. Set brie in center of one circle. Cover brie with other circle and form dough over brie. Dampen edges of bottom circle of dough and seal it to the top dough. Brush with olive oil and invert onto jelly-roll pan. Brush other side with olive oil. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for 90 minutes. Serve with apricot preserves.