Thursday, December 6, 2012

A quick and easy Italian dinner

October 13, 2012

  • Panzanella
  • Spaghetti with Quick Tomato Sauce
  • Bolla 2011 Chianti
  • Gizdich Very Berry Pie

Several years ago my family gathered at Green Lakes State Park to celebrate my dad's 80th birthday. Food was prepared by a variety of people including my son, who was trained in Culinary Arts at the Culinary Institute of America. He made panzanella, an Italian bread salad, using Ciabatta bread and heirloom tomatoes. I loved it, as did everyone at the party, and I've wanted to try making it myself.

This Sunday dinner was on a Saturday as we would be spending Sunday at AT&T Park for the first game of the National League Championship Series. (Our San Francisco Giants lost this game but won the Series, beating the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.) Diane was finally back from Oregon and Caryn was home from college for the weekend.

I would have preferred making my own bread but didn't have enough time, so I bought a two pound loaf of sweet French bread at Le Boulanger. You have to have fresh tomatoes for panzanella and I got these at our local fruit stand, J&P Farms. I picked up some fresh basil there as well. It was the availability of fresh tomatoes which led me to make panzanella this weekend. I made a mistake with the dressing, using Raspberry Vinegar instead of Red Wine Vinegar (hey, they're both red!) but the result was still very good. Everyone enjoyed the salad and Diane had seconds. I should have made the cubes of bread smaller, they were bite-sized and did a good job soaking up the dressing but some were a bit of stretch to eat in one bite.

To accompany the salad I made a quick tomato sauce which was served over spaghetti. The sauce is very easy to make and takes very little time. Though not quite as convenient as sauce from a can or jar I think it's worth the small amount of extra effort. The tomatoes come from a can but it turns out these provide more flavor than you would get from grocery store tomatoes. The latter are picked green, before they are ripe, while tomatoes that are canned are allowed to ripen before they are picked. Thus canned tomatoes are a more flavorful choice. It took less than an hour to prepare the full meal, tomato sauce plus salad. We heeded the old phrase, "when you eat Italian, drink Italian" and accompanied our repast with some Italian Chianti.

For dessert we had a wonderful fresh berry pie. Earlier in the day we visited the Gizdich Ranch, mostly to buy apples. We weren't the only ones who thought this was a good day to visit as the place was quite crowded. We purchased some sandwiches and enjoyed a picnic lunch next to the apple orchard. We gave in to temptation and purchased one of their Very Berry pies to take home along with all the apples fresh apple juice.

Panzanella from America's Test Kitchen
Quick Tomato Sauce from America's Test Kitchen


  1. It is tough to make it with smaller bread pieces, it is hard to otherwise get the crispy brown outside with a soft interior.

  2. Also commenting is a bit of a pain with the captcha each time, though I don't suppose you get to control that