Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thursdays I spent with Nona Sophia, Panzanella

Italian salad: Panzanella (bread, salad, tomat...Italian salad: Panzanella (bread, salad, tomatoes) with extra fried haloumi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Abbondanza!

On Thursday, I would go to Nona Sophia’s apartment. Nona Sophia was beautiful. Even as she aged, she looked like she should be a model for an oil painting. Her eyes were maternal. I felt her affection when she looked at me and gave me her soft Mona Lisa smile. To Nona Sophia, the best way to show love was to cook delicious foods to tempt the appetites of her large family.

While the pots were bubbling and steaming, Nona would take out her art books, and we would sit at the kitchen table to talk about the paintings and the artists. Nona cherished art from all over the world, and all different time periods. But, the art of her beloved Tuscany brought tears to her eyes.

Nona Sophia could speak adequate English, but she preferred to talk to me in Italian. With hands that gesticulated broadly, and a round hip that kept me ever moving in the right direction, I soon learned passable kitchen Italian from Nona Sophia - and from her sons, I learned how to cuss an Italian blue streak, with appropriate hand gestures. Now, wouldn’t that make Snow Bird proud?

Nona Sophia’s table always had three elements no matter what we were eating for dinner: a bottle of red wine, a bottle of emerald green olive oil sent from Nona's cousin’s olive grove near Sienna, and a basket of freshly baked bread. If the basket had leftovers (rare) then Panzanella was on the menu the next day if it was summer and Papa al Pomodora, tomato and bread soup, if it was winter.


Cherry tomato on vine.Cherry tomato on vine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
2 large ripe tomatoes, cut into bite-size pieces (or 4 roma)
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced (I cut my cucumber length ways and use a spoon to
   scoop out the seeds. It takes a second and makes a much prettier and less gloppy salad.
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 cup fresh basil leaves, roll these up together then cut into thin ribbons
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup drained roasted red pepper (optional)
¼ c pitted kalamata olives
8 slices thick stale country style Italian bread, torn into bite-size pieces

Prepare the vegetables then drizzle with the olive oil and vinegar, season with salt and pepper and toss well. Taste! That's my favorite part.
Place half of the bread in a wide, salad bowl. Spoon half of the vegetables over the bread. Layer the remaining bread on top and then the remaining vegetables. Make sure to pour off all of the luscious juices. (If your bread was really stale you can sprinkle it with water and let it set then squeeze it out and use it as described above) Cover and refrigerate. This needs time to chill and let the flavors develop, so at least an hour. Before serving, toss and taste. It might need more salt or pepper. If the bread still seems a little dry add a little olive oil and vinegar.

To make this into a one bowl quick meal, add a protein at the last minute. Feta, mozzarrella, diced deli meats all work well.
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