Panzanella Primaverile

It's the last day of April, which can mean only one thing: it's time for this month's round of Cucina Conversations! Our theme this time around is insalate, or salads, which seems pretty appropriate at least here in Rome, where temperatures have suddenly skyrocketed and the weather is borderline Summer-y (!!!) With no further ado, here are the recipes from my fellow bloggers:

Flavia of Flavia's Flavors will be preparing insalata di orzo, or a salad made with orzo pasta and a lemon vinaigrette; 


Daniela of La Dani Gourmet will be sharing her recipe for insalata di mare, or seafood salad;

Marialuisa over at Marmellata di Cipolle has made insalata di polpo con patate e olive nere, or octopus, potato, and green olive salad; 

Carmen of The Heirloom Chronicles opted for la cialledda, or a bread salad with tomatoes;

Lisa aka Italian Kiwi will be making insalata di primavera, a salad with Spring produce;

Last but not least, Rosemarie over at Turin Mamma will be preparing insalata di valeriana, cipolle novelle, uova e acciughe, or salad made with onions, anchovies, and hard-boiled eggs; 

So! My recipe for this month is a twist on the traditional panzanella, a Tuscan dish typically made with stale bread and tomatoes and dressed with oil and vinegar (red onion and basil also often find their way in to the mix). It is one of the many Italian recipes in which you see pane raffermo aka bread past its prime playing a starring role, a reminder that Italian cuisine has its history as a cucina povera, where people often didn't have much more than stale bread to eat and were forced to get creative (I'd say they succeeded, deliciously). 

Panzanella in its classic form is a decidedly summer dish; it's made with at-their-peak basil and tomatoes, is served room temperature, and requires no actual cooking (that last point is especially important for those of us living in Rome, where summer temperatures are boiling and a.c is scarce). Which got me thinking -- why should we have to wait for June to enjoy panzanella, a dish so good that it should be eaten more than one season a year? After all, bread, glorious food that it is, is in season all year round (or in my diet anyways, is in season on the daily) and with so many other vegetables available in the other three seasons, it seems only fair and just that we take panzanella to the next step, expand on the idea a little bit, make it an all-the-time, 12-months-running kind of dish.

Enter my recipe for the month,
this
 panzanella primaverile, or Springtime panzanella, a recipe that lets panzanella loose a little earlier than expected, using all the lovely produce that comes alive in the Spring, and in abundance. Here I've swapped the basil for springier mint, replaced the tomatoes with spears of brilliantly green ever-so-crunchy asparagus, added lots of sweet peas and spicy red crisp radishes, and left in the red onion for a little color and bite. While I was busy changing things up, I figured the same could go for the bread, too; while classic panzanella, requires the stale bread to be dipped in water and then squeezed dry to soften it, I chose instead to use fresh bread (controversial) toasted with lots of fragrant olive oil and garlic to give the dish some texture and a boost of flavor (think of these as giant croutons, basically). The result is a downright Spring-y dish packed with all sorts of colors, textures, and flavors -- what more could you ask for in a lunch?! -- tied together with a little olive oil and vinegar, the best and simplest of dressings. I loved loved loved this -- after photographing, I may or may not have eaten it straight out of the mixing bowl, with great enthusiasm -- and my head is spinning with possibilities for other variations. Stay tuned for panzanella autunnale (autumn panzanella!) and panzanella invernale (fall and winter panzanella, respectively). But first - make this one, please.

A couple of notes: As I mentioned above, panzanella is usually made with stale bread, which you could also use here, I think -- just decrease the toasting time in the oven by a few minutes. I used apple cider vinegar because it's all I had on hand -- my intention was to use red wine vinegar -- and it worked great, but I suspect you can use any vinegar you want here. I used peas but feel free to also use fava beans or use a mixture of peas and fava beans. You could substitute basil for the mint if you want, or leave out the herbs all together, and next time I make this I'm going to add a little lemon zest to the bread when it toasts, as I find it decidedly Spring-y. 

PANZANELLA PRIMAVERILE

Ingredients:
5 slices of crusty bread (I used a sourdough loaf)
2 garlic cloves
4 tablespoons olive oil
8 spears of asparagus
3/4 cup fresh shelled peas
5 small radishes
1/4 of a red onion, thinly sliced
Fresh mint (optional)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (170 degrees Celsius). Cut your bread in to cubes and place on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, and set aside. In a small skillet over medium heat, heat your olive oil and the garlic cloves. When the garlic cloves are lightly browned and the air smells fragrant and olive oily, remove the cloves and discard them. Let the oil cool slightly and then poor it over the bread cubes. Toss with a slotted spoon until everything is lightly coated in garlicky oil, and then bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned and crisp. 
Next, cut the tough ends off or your asparagus and discard. Cut the asparagus in to small pieces. Bring a medium sized pot of water to a boil, add a little salt, and toss in the asparagus. Let the asparagus cook for about 4 minutes, adding the peas at the third minute. Once the peas have cooked for that last minute, drain the peas and asparagus and if you're intent on preserving that nice green color, put them in to a bowl of cold water for a minute or two to cool them down.
Whisk together your dressing ingredients, adding a pinch of salt and pepper, and set aside. In a large bowl, toss together the bread, radishes, onions, mint if using, and asparagus and peas. Pour the dressing over and toss until everything is evenly coated.
Divide the panzanella up onto serving plates and sprinkle with fresh mint, if using. Dig in. Serves 3-4 (or 2 if you're me and my sister).






































A Week in Rome with Dad

Spring has officially arrived here in Rome! The rain has stopped; temperatures are in the 70s, or 20s, in Celsius, for the rest of you; peas and artichokes and asparagus are in full swing (recipes imminent); and best of all, MY DAD IS IN TOWN! That's right -- as I write this, my father, Anthony Bruzzese, M.D, aka the smartest person I know, one of my favorite people on the whole planet, is in Rome. He's not new to this blog, having been mentioned here, and here, and also here, and last year I wrote a whole other post on him, which got so many views and turned out to be so fun to write that I thought I'd repeat it this time around too.

So! One of the highlights of our week together was seeking out/dining in particularly exceptional restaurants in Rome (we are after all talking about the father of a food blogger -- my interest in food is quite likely genetic). I've decided then to focus this post on our top favorite meals we've had during his visit, to show off a little of the best that the Eternal City has to offer restaurant-wise, and to give you some suggestions that I recommend, wholeheartedly, if you're in Rome/will be in Rome any time soon. Shall we?


QUARANTUNODODICI

My sister Alexandra has been working for the company Aromi Creativi for about six months now, and we're all benefiting from it; Aromi Creativi, you see, is a company that handles PR for noteworthy restaurants and chefs here in Rome, and as a result her new job has taught her all about some of the very best places to eat in the capital and beyond. Quartunododici -- which translates to forty one twelve, or the restaurant's coordinates on the map -- was on the top of her "Must Visit" list when my dad was in town. First things first: Quartunododici specializes in pesce (fish) and isn't in the city, but rather slightly outside it, near Fiumicino (see my note below). The restaurant is situated right next to a shipyard, and overlooks the sea; it actually reminded me of the ocean-side town of Newport in my home state of Rhode Island (a comparison between Rhode Island and Italy is not something I usually experience). The head chef is Daniele Usai, who has earned a Michelin star for Quartunododici's more upscale sister restaurant, Il Tino, located just upstairs. The food at Quartunododici, perhaps unsurprisingly then, was spectacular, just what you'd expect from a Michelin starred Chef. We went all out and ordered: tuna, salmon, and swordfish carpaccio; tuna and avocado tartare; spaghetti alle vongole or spaghetti with clams; strozzapreti alla puttanesca con tonno, or fresh pasta with tuna, tomatoes, and hot pepper; ravioli alla pescatora, or ravioli with seafood; a fritto misto, or mixed fried seafood and vegetables; and to finish, fresh fruit with vanilla gelato. Having essentially eaten everything in the ocean, we (contentedly) rolled to the train and headed back home to Prati.
Note: As I mentioned above, this restaurant is a bit outside Rome, and can be most easily accessed if you have a car. We don't, however, so we took the train from the Piramide metro stop to Ostia Antica, where we then took about a 5 minute taxi ride to the restaurant. 




DA ENZO AL 29

Ahh, Da Enzo! Da Enzo is quite possibly my favorite place to eat in Rome, and my dad's favorite place to eat, too, and therefore we visited not once but twice when he was in town, at the beginning of his trip and then at the very end. Our #1 restaurant serves mainly classic Roman food -- you'll find things like cacio e pepe, bucatini all'amatriciana, carciofi alla giudia -- plus a few other less traditional dishes, like panzanella or tonnarelli con pecorino e cozze (aka tonnarelli with Pecorino cheese and mussels). While our first and second courses vary, we order Da Enzo's burrata with tomatoes and basil every.single.time, and lately, their spring vegetable carpaccio -- thinly sliced artichokes and zucchini dressed with out-of-this-world olive oil and shavings of Parmesan -- has become pretty standard, too. A standout dish this time around, selected by my ever-so-wise father, were the polpette di coda alla vaccinara, or braised oxtail formed in to "meatballs," fried, and served over a Parmesan-rich potato puree. Swoon. Both father and daughters left the restaurant extremely content on both occasions.
Note: The line at Da Enzo, no matter the day or time, is always long (see the photo below, taken just before opening time on a Saturday night). Reservations are therefore highly recommended (even with a reservation however you might have to wait for a bit). 

RIMESSA ROSCIOLI

When he's not busy being The Best Dad in the World, my dad has lots of other roles -- he's an extra-intelligent radiologist, a lover of opera and classical music, a holder of a pilot's license, and is also a wine connoisseur and enthusiast. Indeed, my dad has belonged to a wine club in our home state for 20+ years, collects wine like some people (ehem, yours truly) collect cookbooks, and can give you a detailed evaluation of any wine you set before him (note: this, sadly, was not passed on to me or my sister; it's all fermented grapes to us). Therefore we couldn't let him leave the capital without a visit to Rimessa Roscioli, a restaurant and wine bar that offers wine tastings paired with dinner. The tasting consists of 8 different types of wine that are paired with small dishes, accompanied by an in-depth explanation of the wine and food's history, origins, and why they match. The food was spot on -- swoon-worthy cheeses, meats, and a taste of the best pesto I've ever had, among other things -- and as far as the wine went, my dad's enthusiasm levels were reminiscent of those of a kid in a candy store (just swap the candy for wine).
Note: The tastings at Roscioli are available in both Italian and English. Rimessa Roscioli is very flexible and also can accommodate vegetarians, vegans, and non-drinkers, even. You can get more information here: http://www.winetastingrome.com/about/.


MARZAPANE

Out of all the spectacular meals we ate with my dad, there was, if you can believe it, one dinner that managed to stand out in a sea of gastronomic greatness, eaten at Marzapane, the restaurant of genius/prodigy/wonder woman Alba Estevez Ruiz, who is only 28 (!!!) years old. We opted for the tasting menu, which is designed to represent Alba's story through food. The menu started with tapas and other small dishes from Spain, her home country, and then progressed to Abruzzo, where she first worked as a chef after moving to Italy, and then eventually to Rome. You guys -- my meal at Marzapane may have well been the best meal I've ever had in my 29 years. I'm not kidding -- this was an experience. Every dish that was brought out was spot on, perfect, the kind of food that leaves you speechless for a few seconds, beyond delicious. Many of the dishes evoked memories, too, in that crazy way that taste + memory tends to do, where a bite of food immediately transported back to a certain moment in time. The arrosticini -- grilled lamb skewers -- brought my dad right back to his summers in Calabria as a child, where his grandmother would grill meat over an open flame for dinner; the savory baba' made with potato and rosemary and served warm out of the oven evoked a memory of my favorite restaurant as a kid, where bread was always served hot out of the oven; the lemon-y scented pastry dough of the tartlets for dessert were reminiscent of the citrus-tinged cookies my grandmother makes. The strong connection between taste and memory here was really extraordinary -- I swear Alba does it on purpose -- and made the whole dining experience that much more special. All of the dishes were exceptional, but if I had to play favorites, the risotto with anchovies and ginger (a seemingly weird but winning combination) and a dessert made with lime, celery, white chocolate, and olive oil cake (ditto) were on the top of my list. But then there were also the bonuelos de bacalao, and the cacio e ovo, and the tortilla de patatas with a soft-cooked egg center...*gazes off dreamily in to the distance.* Bottom line: Marzapane, a dinner that evoked so many food-related memories, has now become a wonderful memory I have with my sister and our fantastic dad in Rome in and of itself.
Note: Go to this restaurant. You won't regret it.
 

And that about sums it up! To end this post, a few photos (food related and otherwise) taken when we were out and about in the city. Noteworthy: stumbling upon a sculpture from the ridiculously young and talented artist Andrea Gandini, who uses tree stumps around the city as his medium, and on a completely different note, a dog named Beau who was snoozing peacefully on a bench in Trastevere. I'll be back soon with some recipes that were tested by my dad himself -- in the meantime, have a good week everyone!