Category Archives: Italian

Soup for the masses

Pasta e fagioli 1

This here’s just a crack-diggity soup recipe that you’ll need to cook if you have a) a vegetarian at the table, b) a certain someone in your life (it might be someone you sleep next to every night) who whines and roars and gnashes when anyone says anything about eating vegetarian, and/or c) a faint desire to stick with the Meatless Monday thing. It requires porcini powder, which I buy at DeLaurenti in Seattle. (It’s available online here.)

Pasta e Fagioli with Controne, Kale, Carrots, and Porcini Powder (PDF)
Made with a few special ingredients that may take a hunt but take really no more work to cook than what you find in a regular grocery store, this vegetarian version of pasta e fagioli, the traditional Italian pasta and bean stew, has an unctuous, meaty flavor that comes from porcini powder. Also called porcini dust, porcini powder is made from dried porcini mushrooms. Used like a ground spice, it adds depth and a rich background flavor—perfect for someone who might not be too keen on eating a vegetarian meal.

If you can’t find small, round controne beans, which don’t need to be soaked, use about 1/2 pound of other dried white beans (except soak them overnight and only simmer them for 60 to 90 minutes), or stir in two (15-ounce) cans of drained white beans (with the liquid) instead.

Time: 1 hour active time
Makes: 6 to 8 servings

One (300g) package controne beans (or 10 ounces other dried white beans)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4” coins
4 stalks celery, cut into 1/4” half moons
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
2 tablespoons porcini powder
Bay leaf
6 cups vegetable broth
1 bunch dark, leafy greens, chopped (kale, collards, or chard work well)
One (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup small pasta, such as macaroni or ditalini
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Place the beans in a large saucepan and add water to cover by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 2 to 3 hours, or until the beans are tender, adding water as necessary to keep the water level just above the beans. (You can salt the water as the beans cook, if you want.) When the beans are tender, drain off enough water for the water level to remain just at the top of the beans. Set aside.

Heat a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then the onion, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes, until the onion begins to soften. Add the garlic, carrots, and celery, season with salt and pepper, and cook another 5 minutes, covered. Stir in the tomato paste, thyme, oregano, rosemary, and porcini powder, and cook, stirring, for another 3 or 4 minutes, until the mixture begins to darken a bit. Add the bay leaf, broth, greens, and tomatoes, as well as the reserved beans. Bring to a simmer, and cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Add the pasta, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the vinegar, then season to taste with additional salt, pepper, and vinegar, if necessary. Serve hot, garnished with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

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Filed under garden, gluten-free, Italian, recipe, soup, vegetables, vegetarian

Little cracks

Inauguration on CNN.com

I stood up.

Oh, yes I did. With the dog as my witness, I solemnly swear that I put my tea down, wiped tears from my face, and stood right there in front of my computer screen when Barack H. Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the US.

I’ve been crying on and off all day, it seems. (I hear I’m not the only one.)

Actually, it started yesterday. I was driving to Food Lifeline with my sister. (We spent the morning packing 12,000 pounds of apples for distribution to low-income families.) There, on the corner of 80th and Greenwood, a spot I pass almost daily, was a little family: Mom, Dad, Junior. The little guy was two, maybe three years old. They all had gardening gloves on. Dad and Junior were holding a big plastic bag full of trash, and Mom was scurrying across the street during the last few flashes of the “Don’t Walk” sign with an extra fistful of debris. No neighborhood clean-up t-shirts. No organization urging them to take action. Just two people, teaching their child that it’s his job to help keep his neighborhood clean. I breathed in deep to keep the tears from actually falling down.

Thierry Rautureau at Food Lifeline

At Food Lifeline, I held them back, too. We walked into a gigantic food warehouse exclusively devoted to the distribution of food to people who need it. I’m not intent on spending my whole life focusing on world hunger, but jeez, a few hours in that place is a great way to remind myself to say thanks each and every time I unload a bag of groceries.

We’ll be back, my sister and I. To pack apples again, or stuff envelopes, or assemble boxes of pad Thai, or whatever else they need. It’s amazing how much 130 people can do in 2 hours if someone’s there to tell you where to put your collective energy.

We’ll be back. Yes, we will.

At least, that’s what we told the TV guys who interviewed us. (I hear we were on television. But I think that would be much more exciting news if I had one to watch.)

I believe it, though. I believe in change.

Maybe that’s why I watched the inauguration, on my computer, for the first time… ever. Maybe that’s why I cried when Aretha Franklin came on stage, and when Obama spoke, and when Cheney was wheeled to his limo in a chair. (Wait. That might have been a laugh.)

I don’t suppose John Williams composed that inauguration piece just for me, either. But I heard the Appalachian Spring in there. I heard it because it was a song we played during our wedding ceremony—then, as today, full of promise and newness and birth and life, and the messy scatterings of a beginning whose ends we can’t foresee. (You know. Inauguration.)

I’m stuck, though. I’m stuck again with the challenge of figuring out what my contribution should be. What am I beginning? What is my role?

For the first time, I want one.

It’s easy to pinpoint the work cut out for someone else—for Obama, or my friend in the Foreign Service, or someone who works on energy policy for a living. They spend each day looking for change.

In my day-to-day work, change just means whole wheat flour. Watching the new president outline the tasks ahead, it’s hard not to feel like I could be doing more. But it’s unrealistic to expect I’ll spend 4 hours a week at Food Lifeline, or any other place where I can feel like I’m making a difference. Every month? Maybe. Hopefully.

The thing Obama missed—or rather, the thing I have to reiterate to myself, slowly, because I love the idea of jumping on a fast-moving bandwagon with both feet and nothing to hold onto—is that the things we do, for change, don’t have to be that big. We just have to fill the cracks.

So I’m a food writer. I don’t participate in peace negotiations or initiate AIDS fundraising campaigns for a living, I convince people to eat for a living. (As if Americans need convincing.) But it is what it is, and I love doing it.

And even I can find spaces to fill. Fissures, and seams, and holes to plug.

Winter Minestrone 2

In my world, change means buying food grown here, in Washington, or at least in America. Change means not choosing cherries from Chile, because even though they’re fat and ripe and round and singing out loud for me to test their sweetness, their transport burned a microscopic hole in the world’s oil reserves, and I, personally, don’t really need a cherry before June, when an apple will do. Change means a soup, here, for you, that you can make almost entirely with ingredients from the farmers’ market. (Yes, you—are you the one who gave up on the market in October, when the last of the stone fruit sold out? Go back this weekend. I dare you.)

I can’t single-handedly lift up the state’s economy, rev the farmers’ markets back to life, fix the havoc wreaked by Mother Nature, and secure farmers’ incomes for months to come. Oh, no. Not even close. Heck, I’m having trouble tying my own shoes these days. (Don’t get me started on the grocery cart’s bottom shelf.)

But maybe I can convince you to buy carrots that don’t come pre-packaged in plastic, and to try kale, which in many places, actually grows this time of year without artificial fertilizers. Or to buy sausage from a local purveyor, instead of from a giant national brand whose farmers trash the land, torture their animals, and bring us meat that’s not really all that safe for us to eat. (Even if it’s a dollar more.) Or to eat just a little healthier—not perfectly, but better—so that on a large scale, we, as a country, put just a little less stress on our nation’s health care system.

Yes, I can.

These are little things. The very, very little things. But these are some of my changes, the ones I can make by myself. I’ll be looking for more.

Unfortunately, no administration will be prepared to give millions of us each the individual tasks that take advantage of our personal strengths in light of a larger goal. That we must do for ourselves. And for each other.

Where are the little cracks you can fill? What will you do?

Winter Minestrone close

Winter Minestrone with Sausage and Kale (PDF)

When my husband wants soup, he doesn’t usually demand a certain kind. He says something vague, like, “I’m envisioning something bubbling for hours on the back of the stove.” Me? I don’t much care for simmering things on the back burner. (Nobody puts baby in a corner.) No, I like my soups up front, where they’re easy to reach, and their scents have a shorter direct path to the ol’ smeller.

Here’s a soup that capitalizes on winter produce. In Seattle, you can buy almost all the ingredients—including the beans, sausage, and chicken broth—from local farmers’ markets. For a truly local soup, skip the tomatoes and add a splash of vinegar for acid.

Serve the soup with grated Parmesan cheese and good, crusty bread.

TIME: 1 hour active time
MAKES: 8 servings

1 pound sweet (or hot) Italian sausage, casings removed, torn into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 large onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound carrots (3 large), cut into 1” pieces
1/2 pound parsnips (2 large), cut into 1” half moons
3 celery sticks, cut into 1/2” pieces
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (or 1/4 teaspoon dried)
1 cup red wine, such as Sangiovese
8 cups chicken broth
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups dried cranberry or cannellini beans, soaked overnight (or 2 cans), drained
1 (1/2 pound) bunch kale, rinsed and cut into 1” pieces

In a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot, cook the sausage on medium heat until browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Add the olive oil to the pot, then the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to caramelize, about 15 minutes. Add the carrots, parsnips, and celery, and cook and stir for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, and thyme, season again with salt and pepper, and cook for about a minute. Add the wine, bring to a simmer, and cook, scraping any brown bits off the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon, until the wine has almost evaporated. Add the broth, tomatoes, beans, and reserved sausage, bring to a boil, then simmer at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours, partially covered. Add kale, and cook 30 minutes more.

Season to taste, and serve hot.

Winter Minestrone NYT mag

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Filed under farmer's market, gluten-free, Italian, Lunch, soup, vegetables

227: Pesto, Bleu Cheese, and Pancetta Pizza

IMG_2857

Tito had a pizza the other night at Fore Street that has been following me in my mind, perhaps because I’d never had bleu cheese on pizza before. How have I missed that all these years?

If you smear a long cutting board with cornmeal or a little extra flour, you can usually get the raw pizza to slide back and forth on it, which makes transferring it to a hot pizza stone easier if you (like me) don’t have a proper pizza peel. That’s what I usually do. Only this time, I got a little overzealous, and dumped the pizza onto the stone with such speed that it flew halfway off the back of the stone and crashed into the oven’s back wall, pancetta bits falling to the floor of the oven. I wish I had a video of my valiant husband, donning mitts to wrangle the limp pizza back onto the stone, where it stayed put, miraculously unscathed. So much for a hot oven.

Pesto, Bleu Cheese, and Pancetta Pizza
Preheat the oven to 475, and let a pound of lightly floured premade pizza dough (or homemade, whatever) come up to room temp on a board. Cook up about 1/4 pound finely diced pancetta, and drain on paper towels. Roll the dough out thin, slather it with about 1/2 cup of thick pesto, then sprinkle with 1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese and the pancetta. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crust is good and brown, on a preheated pizza stone if you have one – time will depend on the thickness of your crust (I don’t think I rolled mine thin enough for this one).

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Filed under appetizers, Italian, recipe

Ichiban Carbonara

If you haven’t picked up a copy of Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking: Five Ways To Incorporate Whole and Natural Ingredients into Your Cooking, you’re due for a trip to Amazon. As promised, the book provides a real, approachable segue between cooking the way you do now and cooking with more natural foods and whole grains. Typically when I get a new cookbook, I hunker down on the couch with a cup of tea, the book, and a stack of sticky notes to mark the recipes I’m most excited to try. The other night I ended up reading basically the entire thing because there’s so much informative text – I tend to skip many of the boxes in cookbooks because I know how to peel a tomato, slice a mango, zest a lemon, and chop chocolate. But this book will be a real educational tool for me, simply because whole grains are one of cooking’s coffers I haven’t explored much. Now the book looks like it’s growing little yellow Post-It weeds out of the cracks between every page.

Since my husband still doesn’t want me to use his name here, one of my readers suggested an exhaustive list of possible screen names, from which my husband selected Tito. This is a crotch rocket-riding alter ego I haven’t met, and really doesn’t fit his personality (as I know it) in any way, but Tito it is.

So Tito doesn’t love pasta. And as you’ve probably noticed, he tends to say what he thinks. (Example: on Monday when it was pouring, I let my hair dry naturally and tried to get it to curl a little, and he told me I looked like a flood victim. Joking, of course. But I got the point.)

Pasta carbonara falls into what he unflatteringly calls “Middle Italian” food (as opposed to Middle American, which involves Can of Soup Casseroles and possibly Hamburger Helper). I disagree, but I love carbonara, so perhaps I’m biased.

With a little trepidation, I decided to cut carbonara’s flavors away from its spaghetti and paste them onto soba, Japanese noodles make from buckwheat, which Heidi tells me is actually an herb, not a traditional grain. Result: deep flavors of great pancetta (I didn’t say Heidi would make me a vegetarian), cream, Parmesan, and a healthy dose of peas layered into noodles with their own earthy flavor.

“Ichiban carbonara,” said Tito.

Soba Carbonara 1

Recipe for Soba Carbonara
Recipe 144 of 365

Traditionally, carbonara requires tossing hot, hot pasta with a mixture of eggs and cream, so that the heat from the noodles poaches the egg and forms a lovely thick sauce. Here’s a version that uses Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles, which are typically rinsed with cold water after cooking. (Don’t do that here.) Next time I’ll toss in a handful of toasted Panko breadcrumbs mixed with a bit of chopped Italian parsley to add a bit of crunch.

TIME: 15 minutes (begin cooking the noodles before the bacon is done)
MAKES: 2 servings

1/4 pound pancetta (one 1/3” thick slice), cut into 1/4” dice
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 ounces (1/4 pound) soba (buckwheat) noodles
1 cup frozen baby peas*
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Put a large pot of water on to boil for the soba.

Cook the pancetta over medium heat in a large skillet until browned and crispy, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, whisk the yolk, cream, and some salt and pepper together in a small bowl to blend. Set aside.

Cook the soba noodles according to package directions (probably about 8 minutes, but it may depend on the thickness of your soba). Just before the soba is done, add the peas right to the water along with the noodles. Drain the peas and noodles and return them to the pan, and immediately add the egg/cream mixture, tossing the noodles with tongs as you add it so it coats everything evenly. Add the cooked pancetta and parmesan, toss to distribute evenly, and serve immediately.

*If you find fresh peas, by all means, use them, but add them to the soba about three minutes before the noodles are done cooking.

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Filed under husband, Italian, japanese, Pasta, pork, recipe

I have good morels

Morel mushrooms

This weekend I’m cooking a dinner as part of a fundraiser I participate in every year to raise money for BBSRA. I had to come up with something to cook, of course, and with all those spongy little morels hanging out at various Seattle farmer’s markets, I couldn’t help but find a way to incorporate them into the menu. I sautéed them in butter and a little sage and folded them into homemade gnocchi I made from Mark Bittman’s recipe in How to Cook Everything, and topped them with a scoop of mascarpone cheese (sorry, but I have to do something with the rest of the container, right?).

When we were done with dinner, my husband found a few stray raw gnocchi that had somehow snuck out of the floured towel I’d rolled them onto. Undeterred by the fact that we’d just finished our own giant portions, he scooped them into a piece of aluminum foil and proceeded to make what he called an Italian Pop-Tart.

bad idea

After lining them up perfectly, he wrapped and folded them into a neat little square, and I realized he was about to stick the foil packet into our pop-up toaster.

Italian pop tart

I was horrified. He glared at me. “You know what Mom’s problem is?” he asked the dog. “She has no vision.”

In case you hadn’t guessed, toaster-steamed raw gnocchi aren’t so good. He fed them to both the dog and the cat, who surprised us both with his appetite for potato blobs. My husband chastised him for taking such small bites.

And just to be clear, it’s pronounced mo-RELs, not MO-rels. Those are the values your parents were supposed to have instilled in you.

Gnocchi with morels and mascarpone cheese

Recipe for Gnocchi with Morels and Mascarpone
Recipe 131 of 365

Fresh morel mushrooms are only available for a few weeks each year, and are best used just after they’re picked. They look like little hats, which means they can sometimes hide debris (read: bugs) inside. I tend to cut them open and slice them before I use them, just to be completely sure no one’s coming along for the ride. Serve the gnocchi with a big simple salad and a glass of pinot noir.

Morel, sliced open

TIME: 20 minutes, if using storebought gnocchi
MAKES: 4 smaller servings

1 (17.6-ounce) package regular or whole wheat gnocchi, or homemade
1/2 pound morel mushrooms, cleaned and ends trimmed
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 clove garlic (or 4 garlic shoots), finely chopped
6 large sage leaves, chopped, or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese

Bring a big saucepan of salted water to boil for the gnocchi. While the water heats, slice the mushrooms vertically into halves or quarters, or eighths for larger mushrooms.

When the water comes to a boil, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter has melted, begin cooking the gnocchi according to package instructions. Add the garlic and the sage to the skillet, and cook for about 30 seconds, stirring. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the mushrooms just begin to cook down.

Sauteing gnocchi

Strain the gnocchi, and transfer it to the skillet with the mushrooms. Stir to coat the gnocchi with the butter sauce, season to taste with salt and pepper, then transfer the gnocchi to four wide bowls and top with any remaining mushrooms and a dollop of the mascarpone cheese. Serve immediately.

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Filed under farmer's market, Italian, Pasta, recipe, vegetables

Sting Operation

Steamed Nettles

The first time I came across stinging nettles was in Woods Hole. Some Italian friends of ours, Fiamma and Rosalba, had a little plot at WHOI‘s community garden, and every year at about this time the nettles would come shooting up. Yes, the nettles that sting you when you’re on a walk in the woods are the same kind you can eat – and they’re delicious.

One time when Fiamma and Rosalba invited us over for dinner, we walked in to find Fiamma steaming nettles and sorrel in a big pot. She explained how heat deactivates nettles’ stinging hairs, but insisted that one can actually eat nettles raw, as long as the outside of the leaf is folded over the inside, where the stinging parts are. (A little “research” reveals that the chemical sting can be disabled not only by cooking, but also by chopping, so she was right; note to self: must try raw nettle pesto.) I asked her what the nettles were for.

“We’re just making pasta,” said Fiamma, and although I knew she meant homemade, I couldn’t have predicted how satisfying it would be to sit outdoors at that rickety metal table, cold in the cool April air but too happy to complain, rolling and cutting and forming smooth, flat semolina dough over the rich green nettle and sorrel filling to make agnolotti, ravioli, or whatever shape we felt inspired to try. I’d made pasta many times before, but it was always a project, never relaxed into a task as quotidien as it was there, out on their porch.

When Melissa made handkerchief pasta with ricotta and nettle sauce at the Beard House last week (with seared scallops, YUM), I thought of Fiamma and Rosalba, and was so excited to find big bags of stinging nettles packed into pretty baskets at the Ballard market. I bought a half-pound bag, and started experimenting with the nettles and the patch of sorrel I’ve discovered in our back yard.

I wanted a pasta dish bursting with green color and flavor, and I got it: my husband called it The Green Monster. Inspired by the photo of Heidi’s recipe for Broken Lasagna with Walnut Pesto, I made it with broken lasagna noodles, but I’m not sure I’d do it the same way the next time. I didn’t feel like the flat slabs of pasta were right for holding the sauce; I’d prefer something with more texture, like rotini or cavatappi.

Pasta with Nettles, Sorrel, and Lemon

Pasta with Nettles, Sorrel, and Lemon
Recipe 91 of 365

Stinging nettles taste a little like spinach. Since cleaning them without stinging yourself presents a challenge, I cook them by boiling them in a big pot of water, stirring frequently when I first put them in and hoping that whatever dirt isn’t meant to end up in my body sinks to the bottom of the pot. Look for nettles at farmer’s markets and gourmet food stores in the spring.

This is not your typical pasta dish; it’s light, more like a hot pasta salad, with bright, herby flavors. If you want something a little more substantial, by all means, add butter or cream. Goat cheese or feta would also work well here.

TIME: 40 minutes
MAKES: 2 to 4 servings

1/4 pound fresh stinging nettles
1/2 pound (8 ounces) pasta, such as broken lasagna noodles, cavatappi, or rotini
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 pound fresh ricotta cheese, plus some for garnishing the pasta
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon each chopped fresh mint, parsley, and chives (or some combination)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 small handful fresh sorrel leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces and washed
1/2 cup toasted walnuts

Bring two large pots of salted water to a boil, one for the nettles and one for the pasta.

When the water boils in one of the pots, carefully add the nettles, stirring as you add them to rid them of any unwanted particles, and cook for 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a colander (so that any dirt stays in the pot), and let them drain for a few minutes over the sink.

Add the pasta to the pot of clean water, and cook according to package directions, until al dente.

Meanwhile, gently press most of the water out of the hot nettles, transfer them to a food processor, and puree. Add the olive oil, and process until completely smooth. Add the ricotta, lemon zest and juice, and herbs, and process briefly, just so the ingredients are blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Scoop out about a cup of the pasta-cooking water and set it aside. Drain the pasta, return it to the pot, and toss it with the nettle-ricotta mixture and the fresh sorrel, adding the reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce, if necessary. Stir in the walnuts, and serve immediately, topped with the extra ricotta.

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Filed under farmer's market, Italian, kitchen adventure, Pasta, recipe, vegetables

(Re)Introducing Panzanella

From the Food Lover’s Companion:

panzanella
[pahn-zah-NEHL-lah]
An Italian bread salad made with onions, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, vinegar and seasonings and chunks of bread. Some versions also include cucumbers, anchovies and/or peppers. More traditional recipes call for soaking the bread in water and then squeezing the water out. Others suggest browning the bread in olive oil before adding it to the salad.

I first had panzanella, or bread salad, at Sweet Basil, a restaurant in Vail, Colorado, where I worked the summer after graduating from college. They mixed big, crusty bread cubes with the usual salad suspects for what basically amounts to a study in just how good croutons can be. I made this version with walnut bread, but any high-quality crusty bread will do.

Warm Walnut Panzanella with Bacon, Tomatoes, and Olives

Recipe for Warm Walnut Panzanella with Bacon, Tomatoes, and Olives
Recipe 66 of 365

This is a rough recipe; I drizzled the oil and vinegar on without measuring (and WOW did that feel good). Use your judgment when dressing the croutons and the salad, depending on how crunchy you want to keep the croutons.

TIME: 30 minutes
MAKES: 6 meal-sized servings

1 small (1-pound) loaf walnut bread, cut into 1” cubes
Extra virgin olive oil (plus olive oil spray, if you have it)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound thick-cut bacon
Balsamic vinegar
6 ounces (6 big handfuls) mixed baby winter greens, spring mix, or chopped frisee
1 (12-ounce) container cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 cups kalamata or nicoise olives
Bleu cheese and/or toasted walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat.

Spread the bread cubes out on the baking sheet in an even layer. Using a pastry brush (or olive oil spray), coat the cubes on all sides with a thin layer of the oil. Season the cubes with salt and pepper, and bake until the cubes are nice and toasty, about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring to rearrange them every 5 minutes so they toast evenly on all sides.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a skillet in batches over medium heat until crispy, drain on paper towels, and crumble.

When the bread comes out of the oven, transfer it to a large mixing bowl or giant salad bowl and drizzle immediately with olive oil and vinegar, using about twice as much oil as vinegar. More of each will yield softer croutons; less will keep them more crunchy. Add the greens, tomatoes, olives, and optional cheese and/or walnuts to the bowl, and toss to combine. Add additional oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper, if needed. Pile the salad onto plates and serve while the croutons are still warm.

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Filed under bread, Italian, Lunch, recipe, salad, vegetables