I sat down to write this post at 10 am Tuesday morning and just rested my fingers on the keys of my keyboard. I stared at my screen hoping that the muse that so easily inspired the recipe for this early summer panzanella salad would start whispering witty quips and adjective laden stanzas in my ear. That I could somehow muster up the ability to convey my deep, romantic even, love for this salad. But I just kept starring.
Feeling slightly abandoned by my muse, I took to jogging. Maybe if I pumped some blood and Elizabeth Gilbert into my head than inspiration would follow suit. And in truth it kind of did, but in a backwards sort of way. The way truth usually comes to you.
In all her creative wisdom, dear Mother Gilbert, in an interview with Michael Ian Black on his podcast, “How to Be Amazing” said, “inspiration itself has nothing to gain for it not to reveal itself to [you].” To which I responded, “damn it!” All this time I was blaming my muse and inspiration when really it was me who was standing in the way, trying to force something interesting and “upbeat”. To reveal some essence of the authentic Stacy while staying “on brand” (and using as many quotation marks as possible, apparently). To which M. Gilbert would respond, “it’s just a bloody blog post! It’s really not that big of a deal.”
She can only say that because she has never tried THIS salad!
Heaven or Salad?
A salad can be considered heavenly if it contains the holy trinity: cheese, carbs, and olive oil. This early summer panzanella salad also has bacon, pancetta to be precise, so it’s like heaven, plus.
A traditional panzanella is a Tuscan peasant’s salad made with day old bread, tomatoes, basil, balsamic, and garlic and often buffalo mozzarella. It is comfort food but also salad, and that’s why I love it. This early summer panzanella salad plays with that idea but uses early summer produce and bright, citrusy flavors to give a really unique spin on a traditional panzanella.
The slightly broiled bread is very crunchy but when tossed with the chive vinaigrette and creamy burrata (a very soft, fresh mozzarella) it becomes a vessel to carry all the flavor. The peppery arugula and extra virgin olive oil is balanced by the sweetness of sugar snap peas and the cheese. If you were coming to my house within the next couple weeks I would make this for you. Because I think it’s really worth sharing.
Developing the recipe for this Early Summer Panzanella Salad
Last week, on my Instagram stories, I talked about three things to take into consideration when developing a recipe. I used this early summer panzanella salad as an example. Here is a quick recap in case you missed it.
How to develop the perfect recipe:
- Choose Ingredients that are in Season: Eating in season is important for many reasons but attaining to recipe development, it is important to buy fresh, in season ingredients because it will have the most quality. That means crunchier, more vibrantly flavored, and juicier fruits and vegetables.
- Consider Flavor Profile: A truly delicious dish has a diverse flavor profile. There are six elements to taste: sweet, salt, sour, bitter, spicy, and umami, which is meatiness or savoriness. The more elements of taste you incorporate into a recipe the more complex, balanced, and delicious a dish will be. When you are cooking and it seems like whatever you are making needs something but you’re not quite sure what, run over the six elements of taste and consider what’s missing. Spiciness balances sweetness. Sourness balances umami and cuts through fat. Saltiness mellows out bitterness, and just accentuates all the good stuff.
- Balance Texture: Sure, plain old tomato soup is amazing, but it’s even better when you add some crunchy croutons. Because diversity in texture gives your mouth a lot to process. Pairing something crunchy with something creamy always works. Also think about chewiness, the crispness of say an apple, or the leafy texture of greens. There is no magical equation to texture except that having diversity in texture aids to your experience of a dish.
Here is how I thought about this panzanella salad. First I made a list of some of the ingredients that are just starting to pop out at farmer’s markets in my area: greens, sugar snap peas, zucchini, kohlrabi, chives. Ok, so how do you make them work together?
Next, I considered flavor profile. The sweetness of the peas made me think of sweet, super delicate burrata. The shells of snap peas are a bit bitter while arugula offers a bit of piquant pepperiness. So what was left in terms of flavor. Saltiness, sourness, and umami. For saltiness and umami I went directly to bacon. Because, as you know, I have a thing for it but also because it serves a double purpose, crunchiness and flavor. For sourness, and since fresh mozzarella was already in the mix, I remembered a panzanella salad that it has bread in it. I picked a sourdough bread for it’s depth of flavor. A little sourness, a little nuttiness. Also, carbs. I also decided to make a nice lemony vinaigrette with the chives for extra sour flavor.
Lastly, I considered the texture of the ingredients I was working with. The bread offered a bit of chewiness and would mop up the vinaigrette but if I broiled it a bit first it would fill the salad with crunch. Sautéing zucchini gives a soft chewiness that contrasts all the fresh vegetables. I de-shelled some of the sugar snap peas to aid to that sweet flavor and to give fresh, little pops of flavor throughout the salad. Lastly, I threw in some raw, julienned kohlrabi for diversity of crunchiness as well as color. An early summer panzanella salad was born.
View Dinner As Craft
Cooking is a craft like any other. We all have skills that we have developed because we have repetitively practiced and critiqued them, thus improving other time. There are possibly countless benefits to cooking dinner from scratch everyday (saving money, healthier food, family bonding, etc) but a really big one is that it is the only way to become better at cooking.
I think we often rush through the dinner process because it’s just something we have to do, we are exhausted, or we’re just too busy to spend any mental energy on anything else. And I get that because I do it to. Maybe we can challenge each other to approach dinner time differently and with intention. What if we showed up everyday and really thought about the food we were making. We analyzed the flavors and considered everything we throw into a dish, whether it’s from a recipe or from the inside of your head. So I have come up with a little Instagram challenge to move us forward and keep us accountable.
I am creating this 2 week (June 7-21), Instagram photo-challenge to help you (and me) to not let dinner time pass us by without letting it shape us into better cooks. We are already putting in the time. Let’s make it something productive. A time to look forward to rather than to dread. Let’s view any time we put into cooking as time that we are developing a craft.
So how can you be more present when you show up to cook? What is going to make this enjoyable for you? Your favorite music? A glass of wine or kombucha? A Netflix binge? If you have kids, maybe your partner can take the kids to the park (or give them an iPad, no judging). Whatever it is that will help cooking shape you rather than weigh you down. And then when you do show up, analyze what your doing. It is a practice of mindfulness to stop and really smell the aromas in your home. To taste something and truly taste it. What is going on in your mouth when you take a bite of that soup? What textures are missing? Is there an element of taste that is really lacking?
When you’re done, snap a photo. Get close to some natural light so we can really see what you did. Post it to Instagram, use the hashtag #CookingAsCraft and leave a caption that talks about how this specific cooking session shaped you. Did you adapt something? How did you feel while you made it? Did you think about flavor profile or texture. Did you get your ingredients from a local farm? Really whatever it is that you’re inspired to share. Try to share once a day, but if you can’t just share when you can. Go through the hashtag and engage with other people who are participating in the challenge. Encourage them. Learn from them.
It’s Really Just Dinner
While encouraging you (and me) to give a little more mental energy to our cooking routine, let’s not make it another reason to shame ourselves. Developing cooking skills and the ability to taste something and know what it needs takes time. Allowing inspiration to flow and then having faith that your inspiration is worth trying, takes courage. But really, it is just dinner. If what you make doesn’t turn out, there’s always tomorrow. You’re going to get hungry again. The challenge is about showing up, not about being perfect.
If you need a little help deciding what to make, this early summer panzanella salad is a great place to start. I already broke down the flavor profile and texture for you. So when you taste it you can really experience all the things that are going on in the salad. Plus, like I said, it is so damn good.
I’m really looking forward to seeing all the things you guys come up with and hope that with time, dinner time will really become #CookingAsCraft.
- ½ cup chives, roughly chopped
- zest of half a lemon
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 3.5 oz/100 g pancetta (or kalamata olives for a vegetarian version), cut into small cubes (I asked my butcher to give me a thick ¾" slice)
- 1 zucchini, sliced in half and then into ¼" half moons
- 2-3 cups of hand torn sourdough bread, tear them into large, bite-sized pieces
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 cups arugula
- 1 cup kohlrabi, julienned
- 8 oz/250 g burrata or fresh (buffalo) mozzarella
- 1 cup sugar snap peas, cut in half
- ¼ cup of de-shelled sugar snap peas
- a couple pinches of sea salt
- PANCETTA: Heat a sauté pan over medium heat. Once hot, add your diced pancetta. You want to cook it down for about 6-8 minutes until most of the fat is cooked out of the pancetta and it is brown and crispy. Place the cooked pancetta on a paper towel to drain excess fat and cool.
- VINAIGRETTE: While the bacon is cooking, throw all of the vinaigrette ingredients in a blender or food processor ( I put my ingredients in a large measuring cup and pureed with an immersion blender because it's easier to clean). Puree until smooth and green. Taste it. It should be quite tart. Does it need more salt? Adjust accordingly.
- ZUCCHINI: To your hot pan now full of bacon fat, add your zucchini (if you feel uncomfortable with this for some reason, you can always wipe the bacon fat out and use a refined vegetable oil). Sear the zucchini 2-3 minutes per side or until each side is nice and golden brown. Lay the zucchini on a sheet of paper towel and sprinkle with some sea salt.
- BREAD: Turn your broiler on to high. In a medium sized bowl, toss the bread with 1 tbsp of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Place the bread on a single layer of baking sheet and place it in the oven on the second to top rack for 2 minutes. Flip over the bread and broil one minute more or until the bread is just slightly caramelizing and has become slightly crispy.
- ASSEMBLY: Right before serving toss together your arugula, cooked zucchini, kohlrabi, whole snap peas, individual peas, pancetta, and broiled bread with the chive vinaigrette and an extra pinch of salt. Place the salad on a nice large platter and drizzle with 1-2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil. Place your burrata smack dab in the center. I did this because it gives a really nice presentation. If you wish, you can chop up the burrata and toss it with the rest of the salad. I recommend doing this if you are using fresh mozzarella in place of burrata. Serve immediately giving each person a large scoop of salad and a quarter of the burrata. This salad will not keep well so don't toss it together until you are ready to eat.