Monday, July 14, 2014

Grilled Summer Panzanella (Bread Salad)

In the summer, we love using our grill.  The added punch of flavor from the flames can't be matched & anytime we can get away with quick, simple meals on weeknights, we take it.  Both of us work traditional business hours right now, so getting dinner on the table after a long day at the office is quite an accomplishment.  That's why I love this Panzanella so much.

Have you ever tried 'bread salad' before?  I was new to this meal too, but it's worth trying I promise.  I had seen a version on Kelsey Nixon's show on the Cooking Channel, Kitchen Essentials, that looked really tasty, but I was a little sceptical.  Would it be a soggy, mushy mess?  Would it really get better as it sits, or is it an 'eat it right now' kinda dish?  My love of all food Italian won & I decided to try a variation of my own using our favorite summer veggies & the fresh herbs we had on hand.

Y'all, this salad was so tasty & all my fears were completely unfounded!  It was super fresh, with just enough cheesy goodness & the bread was perfectly crusty AND chewy.  The basil & cilantro blended so well together for the vinaigrette too, with the lemon juice, it made a perfectly bright dressing. It'd also work really well with parsley if cilantro isn't your thing.  It's all I could ever want in a summertime dish.  The leftovers we had for lunch the next day were even better; there were no soggy bites of bread to be had!

This salad is so versatile; you can literally use any veggies you'd like & any mix of herbs for the vinaigrette.  It's a great 'end of the week' meal to use up all those leftover bits of veggies from other dishes too.  I love this mix of corn, red onion & asparagus though.  Lots of colors & the flavors go so well.  If you do just a little planning ahead by soaking the corn, the whole salad comes together in just a few minutes!

Grilled Summer Panzanella (Bread Salad)

1 loaf ciabatta or your favorite type of bread, stale bread works very well
2 ears corn, shucked & soaked in water for 30 minutes or so
1 red onion, cut into thick slices
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
Fresh Mozzarella, I prefer the 'pearls' that are bite size
Cherry Tomatoes, halved or quartered
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper

For Vinaigrette

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fresh Basil, 1 large bunch, trimmed
Cilantro, a small handful
Juice of 1 Lemon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cube your loaf of bread & toss lightly in olive oil, salt & pepper.  Cut red onion into thick slices and trim asparagus.  Grill corn, onion & asparagus to your liking.  We like to spritz everything with a decent spray of olive oil & season it with a little salt & pepper before placing it on the grill.  While the veggies are grilling, place cubed bread onto baking sheet & bake in oven for 5 minutes or so.  You want the bread to be a little brown on the edges, but not completely toasted.  Drain water from fresh mozzarella & cut into pieces if necessary.  Halve cherry tomatoes.  Make vinaigrette by placing juice of 1 lemon, salt, pepper, basil & cilantro into a food processor.  While pulsing, drizzle in olive oil until it comes together & is pleasant to taste (usually I end up using at least 1/4 - 1/3 cup.)

Once the veggies come off the grill & are cool enough to handle (please be careful!) cut onion & asparagus into bite size pieces & remove corn from cob, placing it all into a large bowl.  Add in bread, mozzarella & toss everything with the vinaigrette.

Serves 4.       

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Prosciutto & Arugula Personal Pizzas + a Few Tips

I have always loved a good pizza.  My grandad can still tell stories of how many slices I could eat in one sitting as a child.  There's something so comforting about a slice & it's always delicious.  Even bad pizza is good pizza.  Well, with the exception of the food court in the O'Hare Airport.  It was probably because it was closing time, but that's one of the worst things I have ever had.  Ever.

One of my favorite pizzas now days can be found at Mandola's Market  here in Austin.  It's called the Parma & it's is so simple, but so flavorful.  It's a pie topped with mozzarella, provolone, prosciutto, arugula, lemon vinaigrette & shaved parmesan.  Oh man, it's just about the only thing I order when we eat there.  Besides their lemon ricotta cookies, which are also amazing.

Since it is so simple, but so so good, I decided to try a homemade version.  It turned out really well!  The tastes are all there: creamy, melty mounds of cheese, hearty but thin prosciutto, refreshing arugula & crispy on the outside but tender in the middle crust.   We made personal pizzas & calzones last Saturday for game night & this pie was a big hit.  It was so yummy, that we even made a bigger version last night for a quick supper.  And with the leftover dough & prosciutto we still have in the fridge, it may just be my dinner again tonight.

The recipe is below, but be sure to check out my favorite pizza tips & tools after that, they're keepers no matter what kind of pie you're making!   

Prosciutto & Arugula Personal Pizzas

Your favorite pizza dough (Our go-to is the basic pizza dough recipe in The Joy of Cooking book.)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Dried Spices (Basil, Oregano, Rosemary)
Mozzarella or 'Italian Blend' Shredded Cheese I used at least 1/2 cup for each pizza
Shredded Parmesan Cheese A tablespoon or two for each pizza
1 package Prosciutto Couple of slices per pizza
Juice of a Lemon

 Start by making your pizza dough & letting it fully rise.  Once you've completed this, pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees.

While your oven is warming, make your pizzas.  Start by taking an 1/8th or so of the total dough & on a floured surface, roll out to a circle shape.  Remember, it's not perfect, it's homemade.  With a fork, poke a few holes over the entire pizza.  Brush with olive oil & sprinkle with dried spices.  Top with both cheeses.  Don't be shy with the cheese, it's a main ingredient!  Tear the prosciutto with your hands & arrange on the pie.  Bake for 5-7 minutes.

While the pizza is baking dress arugula with a little bit of lemon juice & a drizzle of olive oil.  Once the pizza has finished baking, top with arugula salad & enjoy!

Flippin' Good Pizza Tricks

In the past couple of years, we've acquired a few tips & tools that really make things easier & help your pizza taste like you're out at a fancy Italian Bistro.

Makin' that Dough
Whenever Andrew makes pizza dough, we often use about half of it into a pie that night & have the other half in the form of pizza, cinnamon 'rolls' or garlic knots over the next few days.  It's a great time saver to know you have the dough waiting on you, since that is by far the longest part of the process.  When using 'day-old' dough though, we've figured out that the best results come if you are patient & let the pizza dough come to at least room temperature before you try to handle it.  We've been too quick to start kneading before & ended up with dough that just wouldn't stretch.  It's not a bad idea to set the dough by the oven while it's heating up.

A Fork is your Best Friend
Before putting down sauce, cheese or any other toppings, we always take a fork & make a few air vents over the entire pizza, like you would if you were baking a pie crust.  This ensures that you don't get any huge pockets or bubbles while your pizza is in the over.

Give it a little EVOO Glisten
After you've topped your pizza, before placing it on the stone, be sure to brush the exposed edges with some extra virgin olive oil.  It helps your dough bake up beautifully, gives it a some color & adds a little extra flavor.

Get Stoned
 About a year ago, we found a 'still in the box' pizza stone from Pampered Chef when going through my Mom's things.  We decided to give it a try, since we had began making our own pizzas, just using cookie sheets.  Since this little bad boy, our lives have never been the same.  Even with frozen pizzas, it makes a gigantic difference.  The crust stays crisp, the pizza cooks evenly, everything just works better.  We're never making pizza without a stone again.  And they're not nearly as expensive as you'd think.  The stone we have is no longer on the Pampered Chef website, but for $30.50, you can get a similar Rectangular Pizza Stone here.

Be Corny
Cornmeal is another must-have.  Sprinkling a bit of cornmeal down on your stone just before putting on the pizza helps your crust stay nice & crispy during baking & makes it easier to scoop up once it comes out of the oven.  And it smells like popcorn once you sprinkle it on the hot stone!

Move It, Move It
Recently, Andrew's Mom gave us a pizza peel & it has been a huge help with getting the raw pizza onto the stone in one try.  It's a real game-changer.  Before we'd have to struggle with both of us using the largest spatulas we had to try & ease the pizza on the stone...usually taking at least a few times before it would shift.  It was a hassle & often resulted in half the ingredients falling off the pie.  The pizza peel has changed all of that.  We've used it a few times now & without fail, sliding our pizzas into the oven has been a breeze.  I'm pretty sure the peel we have is the same Aluminum Pizza Peel here