So here it is and I'm already breaking the rules of my project. Oh wait, there weren't any rules! I guess what I mean is that I'm not starting in on Ina's first cookbook just yet- but I have good reason! Recently I attended a cookout for a friend's 30 the birthday. His wife asked me to bring a salad, so I of course turned to Ina. I originally planned to make her Cape Cod salad (and still plan to at some point) but frankly I wanted something that didn't have lettuce because of the whole heat/wilting factor. I should have realized that New England in April would actually mean freezing wind and no chance of heat induced wilting. Nevertheless I found this recipe for Panzanella and it seemed simple and appealing. I found the ingredients easily in the store and went about making it. I can now admit that I'm surprised any of it made it to the party- it was so delicious that I kept eating it as I was making it! The bread was especially wonderful.
Flash forward to Mother's Day. My family was coming for lunch and I had exactly 1 hour to come up with something delicious that could feed a crowd. Since I already had the vinegar and capers from the previous time I made it, I decided to make it again. My family is nothing if not picky eaters, so I was nervous about how it would go over- they loved it. The veggies are fresh and the vinaigrette really accentuates the flavors rather than overpower them. The bread really absorbs the taste of the salt and the olive oil giving a nice balance to the sweetness of the dressing. I can't make it clear enough how simple this dish is to make. Here's a (somewhat) step by step guide through the process.
Before we begin this is the link to Ina's original recipe at Food Network's website: Ina's Panzanella I recommend not only reading the recipe thoroughly but watching the 15 minute clip (located right above the recipe) of her making the dish on her show! I found it very helpful and gave me a clear sense of what I should be doing when. The measurements can all be found there as well.
OK so step one, gather ingredients:
To toast the bread you just put a little olive oil (good olive oil- it is Ina's recipe after all) in a large pan. I put in about a cup of bread at a time, I think on the actual show she does all of it, but I found it easier to keep an eye on it and make sure it didn't burn if I divided the task. I chopped vegetables while it was toasting, so it didn't take any longer. Once important step that makes the bread go from homemade goodness to out of this world addictiveness is the salt. Ina has said before that salt and pepper are where most people fail with a dish because they over or under season. As the bread was toasting up, I took a pinch or two of kosher salt and hit the pan with it. I totally felt all chef-y doing it this way instead of using a salt shaker- its the little things right? As for kosher salt, Ina uses it so I made the switch, and while I don't know all the science behind it, I definitely find it to be more savory in dishes.
So while the bread is toasting (feel free to taste test it now and then to assure desired texture and crunchificaton) its time to chop, chop, chop. Since this is a salad, you want your veggies to be as uniform as possible with the bread, so about one inch pieces again. I'll admit that I've always been the worst at chopping peppers and tomatoes, so I did a quick Google search and was surprised at how easy it is (and how incorrectly I've been doing it all these years). If your knife skills could use some sprucing up, this is a good dish to practice with!
Below you can see my new pepper method (you probably already know it). Cut the top and bottom of the pepper, make a slit down one side, and unroll it. You can now de-seed (is that a thing?) it and remove the white film quickly and easily before chopping. Bam! Oops, that's more Emeril huh? I guess I should say, how easy is that?
Ok, so into the bowl go the peppers, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes and capers. You may be thinking that it is missing something at this point, and it is- the basil!
Now Ina says to coarsely chop the basil, and by all means go right ahead, but I chose to chiffonade it. Don't tell Ina! I just think its more fun, and again that whole feeling chef-y thing was happening and you can casually slip it into conversation. "Oh it was so easy, just chop the veggies and chiffonade the basil." On second thought, don't do that, people will roll their eyes at you! If you have no idea what I'm talking about you check out this how to video. If that's not your thing, go ahead and (rough) chop those babies! At this point you should have something that looks like this:
Your bread is probably finished by now, so just set that to the side momentarily while you whip up some fantastic dressing! Following Ina's instructions combining the Champagne vinegar, garlic, Dijon Mustard, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Its super easy, super quick, and super delicious! You can buy Champagne Vinaigrette at the grocery store, but that's not as fun! Plus here you can control the salt, etc. Plus you just chopped all those veggies and toasted bread- don't phone it in on the dressing!
I was actually very concerned that it wouldn't be enough. I'm used to slathering my salads in an attempt to get some added flavor. This just didn't seem like enough for all of those veggies and bread. I almost made more, I'm glad I didn't, its more than enough. I'm going to repeat that because I know you're going to have the same thoughts- its more than enough. This is Ina people! Less is more!
Ok so I swear we are almost done, now its time to add the bread and cover it in this delicious delicious vinaigrette. I recommend recommend recommend recommend it sit for a while before serving to really let the bread absorb all of the wonderful salty, tangy, garlicky goodness. The nice thing about this salad is that it can be served at room temperature, so its absolutely perfect for picnics and BBQs. The final result is colorful, crunchy, and wonderful!
You could pack this in any container to bring to a party, it travels well since the vinaigrette gets absorbed by the ingredients (in a good way). If you're serving it at home I recommend transferring transferring it into a big white bowl. I did this, but it was gone before I had a chance to take a picture. The colors just really pop against a white background!
transferring that's it, so simply and easy. Another hit from Ina. This is definitely going to be my go-to summer salad whenever I have to bring a dish. It was relatively inexpensive to make (once you have the capers and vinaigrette you're good for a few salads). If you grow your own basil or veggies, or have a farmers market near you, this would be the perfect way to show case those!
Do you have a go to dish for cookouts and BBQs? Do you ever get tired of the same old pasta salad? Let me know!
I watch Ina almost every day. I absolutely love my job as a teacher, and the fact that it is mentally stimulating. That being said, by the end of the day I crave a period of transition from being hyper-aware and constantly engaged, to enjoying and soaking in the remainder of the day. I get home from work, prepare a snack (or start dinner, depending on what time it is) and fire up my DVR. Every day I am greeted by at least two and sometimes as many as five episodes of The Barefoot Contessa. It doesn't matter how many times I have seen the episode, I become engrossed. Ina's calm demeanor, humorous anecdotes, and incredibly insightful tips and explanations both captivate and calm me. I love that she is a bit messy in her cooking, I love that she is both a teacher and a learner, and I love that she understands that in the process of breaking bread with friends, the important part is the time spent with friends. I really love that she is living her passion, and was willing to take a risk and totally change her life to find what made her happy. Oh yeah, I also love her food.
I am not a "great cook." Like many, I have certain dishes that I do well, but it has been a slow evolution from frozen dinners in the early post-college days, to actually roasting vegetables. I find myself turning to Ina again and again. Anytime I am asked to bring a dish somewhere, I immediately search her index of recipes. They are always incredibly easy to follow, and though they may not always turn out as perfectly as hers, they always taste fantastic. I have never had a bad experience. I love, love, love to entertain and constantly find Ina bailing me out of the mundane chip and dip routine. I've never thought to ask my friends if they prefer "apple cake tatin" to nachos and cheese- but no one has ever complained!
While following recipes is perfectly fine what I really strive for is to be able to cook intrinsically- to just know what goes together. Beyond that I'd like to know (without having to resort to the google) what it is to julienne, de-glase, and saute. I mean I think I know what these things are, but I'd like to be more confident. I have thought about taking a cooking class, and maybe someday I will, but for now I'm turning again to Ina. I read somewhere that she taught herself to cook using Julia Child's cookbook. At first I thought I would do that, but upon opening it I was completely overwhelmed. Plus, somebody already did that, and they made it a major motion picture. It seemed a little cliche and really not my style anyways. Then it dawned on me, why not go right to the source? If Ina is self-taught, maybe she could teach me?
So here goes, I'm going to cook my way through all of Ina's cookbooks. I'm going to start at the beginning with her first book, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and go right through to Make It Ahead. I'm excited to try all of her recipes, but I'm also excited to see what I learn along the way. Ina provides great tips and tricks throughout her books. I will also continue to watch her show, read her blog, and really pay homage to all things Ina.
I have no timetable for completing this, and I don't plan on going in order within the books, but I do plan on sharing my experiences as I go.This is an ode to the woman that helped me transform from a twenty-something who stored things in her oven and routinely drank $6 bottles of wine, to a woman who appreciates a good nibble of cheese, simple deliciousness, and of course cooking with "a good wine", you know- one that I would drink ;). She has made me an appreciative eater. Now if I can just get the cooking part down...