Wednesday, May 29

Weeknight Panzanella

There was, once upon a time, a woman named Pascadozzia, and one day, when she was standing at her window, which looked into the garden of an ogress, she saw such a fine bed of parsley that she almost fainted away with desire for some . . .
-from Parsley, and Italian folktale

I can only imagine looking through that window . . .

Late at night, when when the world lies sleeping and Eve is wide awake, I curl up next to her and tell her the tale of Parsley and the Ogress.  It fascinates her because it reminds her of the story of Rapunzel.  And it's one of my favourites because it radiates with an affinity and desire for simple, peasant food (a bed of parsley) unique to a culture that is very dear to my heart. 

Panzanella is an Italian salad made with dry bread, juicy tomatoes and yes, parsley.  It's peasant food at its best, and being such it's rustic and hearty and utterly delicious. This is a favourite weeknight meal in our house.  I can rely on it when the day goes by too quickly and I haven't had time to think about dinner, let alone prepare it.  With the end of the school year this week, our days have been flying by all too often, and this salad has been my saving grace. The ingredients are staples in my kitchen; I know they're always in my pantry.  Cannellini beans, capers, bread, oil, vinegar, and fresh parsley from the garden.

Traditional panzanella is made with stale bread that's been resurrected by soaking in water.  The bread is then crushed with tomatoes and fresh herbs.  I like to add cucumbers to mine, and tuna and cannellini beans for protein.  Instead of soaking the bread, I season homemade croutons with herbes de provence and add them to the salad at the last minute to soak up all the glorious tomato juice.   It's dressed simply in a white wine vinaigrette and lots of fresh herbs.

Hungry for more bread salad?  Here's my Tomato and Mozzarella Panzanella - another favourite!

Read the whole story of Parsley and the Ogress here.

Friday, May 17

Spring Lamb Stew with Fennel

Once in the midst of a seemingly endless winter, I found within myself an invincible spring.
-Albert Camus
Spring has finally arrived in Colorado!  I didn't know if it would happen this year.  We seemed forever locked in an eternal winter, despite my spring state of mind.  But, the last week has been one of transformation.  Warm and sunny, the grass is verdant green, and the Brandywine apple tree in my garden is finally bejeweled in rosy pink buds.  I can hardly wait until they burst open and fill the garden with the ethereal aroma of apples and roses.  This metamorphosis has been so sudden I wonder if I'll wake soon and find it's all a dream.

Though our days are filled with sunshine, the nights are still cool and the mountain peaks are still frosted with a layer of clean snow, glowing like alabaster in the fading sun.  Nothing warms up a cool spring evening like a bowl of lamb stew.  It's something I crave when the weather begins to warm, and I set the table out under the trees.  We're still wrapped in sweaters and scarfs at dinner time, but it's nice to eat outside again.

I found a few gorgeous heads of fennel at the market yesterday, lacy and delicate.  They seemed to call to me as I passed by and I couldn't resist.  I also picked up some plump spring peas.  Tender and sweet, they taste like rain.

I prepared this stew in the slow cooker, but it can just as easily be prepared in the oven.  Just cut the cooking time in half, and use a cast iron Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid.  When cutting the fennel remove the leafy tops and reserve them for garnish.  Cut the bottom off the bulb and peal away any browned or discolored spots on the outer layer.  Slice the bulb in half lengthwise, and then cut each half into 3 or 4 wedges making sure each piece is held together by a bit of the core.  This will insure that it stays together during cooking and will look nice on the table.  Serve the stew with a good, hearty loaf of bread to sop up all the beautiful juice. 

Friday, May 10

Brunch with Red Pepper Tartines

I'm not a breakfast person.  I never have been.  In fact, I don't become hungry until at least ten in the morning.  So one of the great pleasures of the weekend, for me, is to sit down with my family over a lavish weekend brunch, late in the morning at just the time hunger finally comes calling.

I roasted bell peppers last weekend - loads and loads of them - so that I could make this roasted red pepper soup.  I had a few left over, which I marinated.  The result was this red pepper tartine, which graced our brunch table Sunday morning.  Sunny and bright, these are like the rays of summer sunshine that dance on my bedroom wall just as I'm opening my eyes.  The peppers are roasted under the broiler until they're charred and smoky.  Then, tossed in a simple balsamic marinade, they sit in the fridge overnight.  In the morning, when the coffee pot is half empty and I've finally changed from my bathrobe, all that remains to be done is the simple job of cooking the eggs and assembling the tartines.  And, since the extent of my morning cooking ability doesn't extend far beyond that, I call this the perfect morning meal.

Sunday, May 5

Dinner Party + Comfort Food

Kale is something we never ate growing up.  In fact, my mother grew large and verdant bushes of kale in her vegetable garden to feed our green iguana who lived in a gigantic cage in the basement.  (One of the many exotic pets that populated my childhood.)  Oh, but we didn't know what we were missing!  These days I just can't get enough of it.

I threw a dinner party last week.  The menu was simple and all about comfort.  A rustic meatloaf, loosely based on this recipe, but with a little surprise embedded deep within - hard boiled eggs, a signature of my grandmother's hearty meatloaves.  Simply place a third of the meat mixture on a baking sheet and lay three hard boiled eggs lengthwise down the center.  Then mound the remaining meat on top and around the eggs, and form it into a loaf.  The kids enjoy getting their "surprise," and I enjoy the memories when I slice into the loaf.

Garlic mashed potatoes were served alongside, smothered in a rich, meaty gravy.  There was also a warm loaf of whole grain, farmhouse bread, and these mushrooms, doused in wine and lots of garlic.  I needed something light to complete the meal, but with enough body to hold its own against the bold flavours of the evening.  This kale and apple salad was just the thing.  Raw, organic red kale that was almost too beautiful to cut; tart gems of dried cranberries; sweet honeycrisp apples; and a fabulous cranberry-cinnamon goat cheese from La Bonne Vie to top it off; all dressed in a simple, sweet raspberry-balsamic vinaigrette.  The perfect hearty salad.  I could eat this every day!

Upon my children's request, for dessert I made these charming little raspberry shortcakes, topped with curls of bittersweet dark chocolate.  They're something we saw as we walked through a bakery several weeks ago, and my kids have been dreaming of them ever since.  You know kids - once they get an idea in their heads, they just can't let it go.  Of course, the ones in the bakery weren't safe for my little, peanut allergic sweetheart, but mine are.  And I bet they tasted just as good.  The ultimate comfort food.

With wine and laughter that flowed late into the evening, followed by smooth, dark coffee and deep conversation, the dinner party was a smashing success.  I'm already planning my next one.  'Tis the season for entertaining!