Sunday, June 12, 2011


You gotta love those Italians. 1/4 of my heritage is Italian, but I think the only part I inherited was the cooking part. Well, that and the talking with my hands thing :). Anyway, the Italians have come up with one of the absolute best uses of stale bread ever - panzanella. Bread tossed with tomatoes, oil and vinegar is the base, but you can pretty much throw in anything that goes with bread and tomatoes - and really, what doesn't go with bread and tomatoes ? Have you seen what they throw on pizzas lately ?

A few weeks ago I ended up with half a loaf of Asiago bread that didn't get eaten, and I immediately threw it in the freezer with dreams of making Panzanella. An Asiago bagel that came in an assortment met the same fate.'s bread !!
Panzanella has to be made with stale bread - not only stale, but bread that started out with plenty of substance. If you use something too soft, it will turn into mush...definitely not Culinary Orgasm. Bagels are really kind of perfect, as (properly made) they have plenty of chew to them. Really, though, whatever you have is great - as long as it's real bread. And if you don't have it, check the "day-old" rack at the store...they're sure to have something that will work.

What I'm giving you here is what I used in this batch - but feel free to experiment with this one. Many recipes use wine vinegar, but I use balsamic as I had plenty on hand (and I love it with these flavors). I got a great bunch of mixed olives at Russo's which included caperberries (the large berry of the caper plant, not to be confused with the tiny round "capers" which are the immature bud - the caperberries are much milder in flavor). I also threw in some fresh mozzarella - the best fresh mozzarella on earth, fior de latte from the Mozzarella House in Everett (also available at Russo's). Really, though, go with whatever you have...this is great, great summer food. All your food groups without using your stove...not wasting leftover bread...and absolutely delicious to boot. Culinary Orgasm, indeed !!


4 cups stale bread, cubed
4 cups tomatoes (I used 2 cups of yellow pear tomatoes, whole, and 2 cups of Campari tomatoes, halved)
1/2 small red onion, chopped fairly small
1 cup olives, your favorites or a mix
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella - whole if small balls, sliced if larger

Mix everything except the mozzarella in a large bowl, and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to meld the flavors. Add the fresh mozzarella right before serving.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Strawberry Buttermilk Cake

mmm....strawberries. Actually, I should be more specific...mmm, fresh native strawberries. I don't always get along with strawberry-flavored things (I've always been more of a blueberry girl) and the huge cultivated strawberries usually found in the market don't really do too much for me. But the real, local thing...oh yeah baby. Sweet and tart at the same time, with the most amazing fragrance - that's what we call a Culinary Orgasm. Growing up, if we got to Maine early enough in the summer the tiny wild strawberries would still be in season...tiny things, about the size of peas....but little explosions of flavor, the promise of summer on your tongue. Sadly, I don't get to Maine nearly enough these days, so I have to be patient and wait for the native strawberries to hit the farm stands around here. Not quite the same as wild, but still worlds apart from the flavorless behemoths you find in the markets the rest of the year. Not that I don't occasionally give in and buy some...ain't nothin' like the real thing, though.

Usually, I go with something like strawberry shortcake - or even just gobs of clotted cream - so as not to mess with the perfection of the berries. Whilst perusing my favorite blogs last week, though, I saw that Smitten Kitchen had baked up an absolutely divine-looking Strawberry Summer Cake - itself adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe. That's some pretty damn good provenance, right I knew I had to get in on that action. The cake as advertised was absolutely delicious - I don't think it lasted ten minutes, still warm from the oven and resplendent with freshly whipped cream. Me being me, though, I thought I could make it just the tiniest bit better...enter buttermilk. I tend to use buttermilk instead of regular milk in any quick bread / muffin / cake type of baking, as the magical alchemical reaction between buttermilk and baking powder gives you such a light, tender crumb that you'll quickly be a convert too. By all means, though, if you only have regular milk go ahead and use it here - the cake will still be amazingly delicious, I promise. The only other major tweak I've made here is the baking time - I find it takes much longer than originally written. Maybe it's my oven (though I have checked the temperature repeatedly)...but I'm going with my own timetable here anyway. Hey, it's my blog :)

Strawberry Buttermilk Cake
adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Martha Stewart

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pie plate
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 cup  plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 quart strawberries, hulled and halved
Powdered sugar and freshly whipped cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan

Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Add dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth. Pour into prepared pie plate. Layer strawberries over batter as closely as possible in a single layer (some will overlap, which is fine - the idea is to spread them out as much as you can) Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.

Bake cake for 15 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 325°F and bake cake until golden brown and a toothpick in the cakey parts comes out free of wet batter, at least an hour more (really, an hour - it won't burn I promise !) Sprinkle with powdered sugar, and let cool in pan on a rack. Serve slightly warm, with whipped cream.