An Italian summertime icon takes a non-traditional twist at Florence’s Cordon Bleu cooking school. Chef David Bonucci reinterprets the Tuscan panzanella, a bread and tomato salad into a riff of dishes that encourage you not to throw away your stale bread. Yes, stale bread is a storied ingredient in Italian cooking used throughout Italy and one of the main ingredients in a Tuscan panzanella. From meatballs to ribollita to pappa al pomodoro to Italy’s Sudtirol dumpling-like canederli, stale bread is a staple in the Italian kitchen. So re-purposing it twice over is a nuovo Italiano chef’s delight.
One of 6 dishes from Chef Bonucci’s culinary re-purposing of panzanella includes a Panazella Shot make with an emulsion of tomatoes with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and xanthan gum (2 g every 0.5 l). He prepares a slice of bread garnish by adding a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil to the bread slice. Season with salt and pepper and toast them at 100°C. Sprinkle the toasted slices with a few drops of balsamic vinegar. Pour a little of the tomato smoothie in a glass, add a few drops of pesto and the slice of toast. Decorate with a sprig of chives. A nice addition to a summertime antipasto that will have your guests wondering at what Italian cooking school have you been studying.
Summer is here and its official arrival brings a symphony of colors and flavors to heighten our senses and satisfy our taste buds.
Seasonal summer produce offers the best opportunity to experience some of Italy’s most iconic dishes which are based on locally grown ingredients picked at the height of their flavor and simply prepared.
One of the best ways to eat like an Italian locavore is to make l’insalata caprese (the salad from Capri). The texture, flavor and vitality of this popular Italian dish is at its best this time of the year. Deceptively simple, it is made of three basic parts that tie together the ingredients in a forceful way reminiscent of a Vivaldian concerto. Made with firm vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh mozzarella (bufala or fior di latte – cow’s milk mozzarella) and garden grown Italian basil. The whole is made better by the quality of the individual ingredients. Top with a drizzle of an excellent Italian estate-bottled extra-virgin olive oil for a light, delicious salad on a warm summer evening.
Un scherzo: Throw it at a bad opera singer at La Scala?
Italians would never be that rude at the opera or that wasteful. They knew the tomato was special as early as 1544 when Pietro Andrea Mattioli an Italian physician and botanist from the University of Padua included the tomato in his Discourse on Material Medicine where he discussed the tonic and magical powers of the pomo d’oro or “golden apple”.
However it wasn’t until 1839 that the tomato met pasta in Italy when Ippolito Calvacanti, the Duke of Buonvicino, published a cookbook with a recipe for vermicelli co le pomodoro made with crushed tomatoes and the leftovers of onions and herbs from the garden, lightly fried in oil creating the first tomato sauce. And here it is, roughly translated.
Take 4 “rotoli” ( unit of measurement used in Naples equal to .861 kg) (2.760 kg) of tomatoes, cut them in a cross, take out the seed and water, boil them, and when they are melted, pass them through a sieve, and that sauce let it condense over the fire, adding one third (gr.275) of suet, or lard. When the sauce is dense, boil 2 “rotoli” (1.380 kg) of vermicelli, very green (a typical Neapolitan expression to mean “al dente”) and drain well, put them in the sauce with salt and pepper, keeping them on the heat of the fire so they dry a little. Every now and then turn, and when they are well seasoned serve them.
Italian cooking ingredients are among the most used and abused ingredients in the world. Perfect for creating the iconic dishes of Italy, they often fall short when misused; their flavor potential wasted.
Here are 5 top things not to do with some of Italy’s most beloved ingredients at the risk of having an Italian Nonna chase you around the kitchen with a polenta stick.
- Never let garlic burn. Saute oil on a low to slow medium flame and cook gently until very soft. Don’t let the garlic burn or turn brown or it will taste acrid and bitter and impart that flavor to your whole dish.
- Never refrigerate a tomato, not even after the tomato is ripe. Refrigerating kills the flavor, the nutrients and the texture of Italy’s most beloved ingredient.
- Never forget to salt your water when making pasta. Salted water flavors pasta. Salt the water in the cooking pot just as it comes to a boil. As the salt dissolves into the water, the pasta absorbs the salt along with the water as it cooks. If you cook the pasta in plain water and wait to salt until afterwards, the pasta will taste bland no matter how delicious your sauce and . . . always follow the package instructions for proper cooking time.
- Never use “light” olive oil. Light olive oil is heavily refined undergoing several chemical processes to create a neutral oil with little if any of the flavor and healthy components of extra virgin olive oil. Some producers make olive oil extra light by adding a dash of virgin olive oil to other oils, such as vegetable or canola. If you’re worried about calories, skip the tiramisu. Light olive oil has the same fat content as regular oil, the word “light” is used in reference to the color and flavor.
- Don’t undercook mushrooms. Mushrooms have a savory flavor that is only enhanced by proper cooking. All it takes is some patience. Our Nonna cooked the best mushrooms. If porcini were not available she would use button mushrooms and they would still taste like the forests of Italy. In a large, shallow pan heat up some extra virgin olive oil, butter and finely chopped garlic. Add sliced mushrooms and cook long enough to release as much of the inherent moisture (water weight) of the mushrooms as possible, avoiding a soggy sauté. The volume of the mushrooms will decrease dramatically and becoming nicely brown . Once you’re at this stage you can add salt, pepper and Italian herb seasoning (oregano and marjoram) and if you choose deglaze the pan with some wine and cook some more. Your pan should have well-cooked mushrooms with a delicious glaze.
A desirable collection of food, wine, art and design that shares the color Red and the Romance of Italy from a lipstick red espresso machine to an Italian red sauce make with tomatoes botanically related to the mandrake, or “love plant”, the tomato was once believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac, said to be able to “lead a man like a dog .
. . . (click) the Red Passion Collection.