But Actually, Food

I feel it’s important to caveat, given the title, that I don’t speak Italian. At least, not beyond a few curse words and a completely useless ability to accurately identify 37 types of pasta by their proper names. Which I promise is (somewhat) relevant to my point.

I love ot cook. In fact, in the very title of this blog, I promise FOOD! Needless to say, I haven’t delivered.

I think that food is about joy. That food is about love. And that really great, delicious food is a reflection of the state of your soul. A tasty barometer of your mental health, as it were, at least for me.

And for years, I made really great food. Delicious and inventive and made with ingredients I sourced from wherever I could, from wherever interested me – Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, a questionable-looking van full of peaches. If you can name it, I could make a meal out of it, and send you home with seconds to sneak at midnight.

From the time I was a senior in college until I quit my first real job in my chosen industry, I was a serious home chef, possessed of dozens of beautiful cookbooks kitchen equipment that ranged from utilitarian to ridiculous (I’m looking at you, banana ice cream machine.) I truly loved being in the kitchen, and was forever testing recipes on myself and my friends.

But things change. Sometimes you quit a job that doesn’t seem right for you in the moment for one that does, and you don’t say anything even as you begin to get crushed under the weight of spending too much time doing something you don’t enjoy. Sometimes that manifests itself in a lot of shitty takeout.

Like 18 months’ worth.

And sometimes that turns into a habit that lasts for another six months, even as you gain traction in your new job (you know, the one that really, really makes you happy).

But habits, like rules, are meant to be broken. And sometimes breaking habits means spending $30 on one delicious, perfect, simple meal without regretting the time or cash investment. So I share with you my breakthrough meal, something so simple and full of goodness that it’s bound to make you smile:

Italian Flag Salad
11-oz clam shell of baby arugula
8 oz diced pancetta
1 pint grape tomatoes
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 large shallots
Butter
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt
Pepper
Lemon juice

In a large sauce pan, melt just enough butter to caramelize your diced shallots. When shallots begin to become translucent, toss in pancetta and brown along with the onions until crispy. Lightly toast pine nuts before draining. Add a small amount of olive oil to the pan along with halved grape tomatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and saute until tomatoes are just heated through.

Drain pan again, and toss mixture with baby arugula, along with 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1/8 cup of balsamic vinegar and salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.

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Because Bread Makes Everything Better

Growing up pseudo-Italian (I say “pseudo” not because the heritage is in question, but because out of the ~50ish people who would wander in and out of my aunties’ dining rooms on holidays, I was the one blonde, acne-ridden child in a sea of lovely Mediterannean women), I learned to love bread. 

I mean, who doesn’t love bread? But, if I’m being biased, I think Italians do bread best. Crunch on the outside, soft on the inside and basically a miraculously versatile combination of complex carbohydrates.

(I say that like I know the difference between complex and simple carbohydrates; I’m sure I did once but, you know, my high school biology lessons have gone the way of the dinosaurs.)

One of the very best things about Italian bread is that some enterprising person from my ancestral homeland figured out that not only could it accompany salad; it could be the salad. Thus, I present my perfect summer panzanella:

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Ingredients

  • 6 cups of day-old Italian bread, cubed or torn into 1-inch pieces
  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 6 cloves garlic, divided
  • 1/2 Tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 Tsp. black pepper
  • 2 Tbs. pomegranate or red wine venegar
  • 4 large ripe tomatoes (preferably mixed-color)
  • 3/4 cup sliced Vidalia or red onion
  • 1 handful torn basil leaves
  • 1 Tsp. oregano
  • 1 Tsp. rosemary
  • 1/2 cup halved black olives (Kalamata if you like things saltier)
  • 1 hothouse cucumber
  • 1 red bell pepper

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  • Toss bread with 1/3 cup olive oil, salt, pepper and the garlic cloves; toast until golden-brown (5-10 minutes) and cool
  • Place half the now-roasted garlic cloves in a food processor with 1/3 cup olive oil, vinegar, and salt/pepper to taste
  • Slice the onion, chop the bell pepper and cucumber and tear the basil leaves (if you like roasted veggies, roast the oven and pepper)
  • Toss the vegetables, herbs, bread and garlic/olive oil mixture until everything is well-coated and serve at room temperature
  • Happy eating!

Love,

Your Gal