One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.

-Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, "Pavarotti, My Own Story"

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Panzanella: Italian Bread Salad

In Turkey, bread is a way of life. It is eaten at every meal and is so important in our culture that our way of saying "earning a living" translates as "earning bread". Since bread is filling and cheap, families stretch food further by cooking saucy dishes and using bread to sop up the sauce from the plate. I like to do the same with the pool of salad dressing left at the bottom of the bowl. There isn't much that is better than some bread dripping with tangy vinegar and fragrant olive oil and this Italian recipe takes that concept even further. When confronted with a hunk of bread going stale in my kitchen, I always turn to this. The stale bread is mixed with tomatoes and a dressing and soaks up all the delicious juices, but doesn't go mushy the way the fresh stuff would. 

As with a lot of Italian food, the recipe is simple but it relies on having high quality ingredients. Buy good quality French or Italian bread and don't use tasteless supermarket tomatoes. Try to get some from a farmer's market instead.  


I hate the texture of tomato skins in salad so I always peel them. It's not too difficult - after coring the tomato, start at the top and peel off the skin using the flat side of a knife. Non-traditional but delicious add-ins include corn, avocado, hot pepper or toasted pine nuts. If you like garlic (and who doesn't?), you can rub a halved clove against the bread slices after toasting. Serves 4 as a side dish or appetizer. 

4 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 slices of stale bread
3-4 leaves fresh basil, cut into thin strips (optional)
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1) Mix the tomatoes with the basil, oil and vinegar in a bowl and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Let stand for a few minutes so that the salt draws out some liquid from the tomatoes.

2) Toast the bread and tear it into bite-sized pieces.

3) Toss the bread with the tomatoes and let stand for a few minutes so that the bread absorbs some of the dressing and tomato juices.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Quick Dinner: Roasted Shrimp with Broccoli

Lemons are an underrated ingredient in my book. Their cheerful yellow color brings a bit of sunshine to cold fall days and their acidity adds a delicious brightness to pretty much all foods. When the weather went from lovely and warm to frigid and depressing in the past two days, I busted out one of my favorite lemony, healthy and quick dinner recipes to fend off the chill.

I generally keep a bag of frozen shrimp in the freezer. Take a few out of the bag, let them sit in a bowl of tepid water for a few minutes and you can use them as a last minute protein addition for most meals. Oven-roasting at high temperatures is a fantastic way to cook most vegetables. It concentrates their sweetness and doesn't give you a limp, soggy texture like boiling would. Here, the shrimp are tossed into the roasting pan with some broccoli, which browns and caramelizes beautifully in the oven. The whole thing is jazzed up with some spices and shocked alive with some lemon juice. It takes less than 30 minutes from start to finish and if you line your roasting pan with foil, you won't even have any clean-up! 

Roasted Shrimp with Broccoli and Lemon
Adapted from here. You can serve this with rice or as is. One or both of the spices can be substituted with garam masala or curry powder. Don't waste the broccoli stems! You can peel them and chop them up with the rest as long as you cut off the small woody bit at the end of the stalk. One head of broccoli might seem like a lot for two people, but it loses a lot of volume in the oven. Serves 2. 

1 head of broccoli, chopped into florets
1/2 lb (250 gr) peeled and deveined raw shrimp
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cumin
Pinch of chili powder or hot pepper flakes (optional)
1 lemon

1) Preheat oven to 425F (215C). Line an oven tray with foil. 

2) On the tray, mix the broccoli with 1 tbsp olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spread out on a single layer and roast for 10 min.

3) Push the broccoli to one side of the tray. Add the shrimp to the other side and toss with 1 tbsp olive oil and salt and pepper. Toss everything together, then mix in the spices, spread everything in one layer and roast for 5 min. Mix, turning the shrimp over, and roast for another 5 min. 

4) Serve with a generous squeeze of lemon juice on top.