Sunday, December 3, 2006

winter panzanella

winter panzanella

Among the few Food Network chefs that don’t terrify me, Michael Chiarello is high on that list; his cooking, style and not overly-aggressive healthfulness fits cleanly with the type of foods I like to make and we like to eat. But, I have yet to make a recipe of his and it is, quite frankly, because he can be such a pain in the ass. The gray salt, the extra-virgin use for cooking, the $218 Balsamic, the fifteen-step recipes and his endless gadgets put me off. Would it still taste good from the kitchen of Simple Folk? Due to some haphazard sense of principle, I never bother finding out.

But he’s finally broken into the Smitten Kitchen with a winter vegetable panzanella I couldn’t resist, you know, the one he whipped up for his “holiday gift wrapping lunch,” my god. This week I had found myself missing that summery panzanella salad I’d made for a dinner party last month, but I wanted something more seasonal. I’ve had this roasted vegetable version bookmarked for a while, but… something about it seems lackluster. When Chiarello, in his just-enough-rumpled shirt said butternut squash and brussel sprouts, I had very much a “bingo!” moment.

I resisted the temptation to add other vegetables. Though I’m sure you could, in that rare case that only two can carry a meal, I say run with it, the accompanying lighter shopping bag. This was delicious, we are both happy and stuff stuffed, and I sense I’ll be trying more of his recipes in the future. But, I’m not yet convinced that he’s thinking about the toiling classes when he writes recipes. We have a stellar amount of dirty dishes from this one — two vegetable! — dish: three big and four little bowls, a grater, peeler, slotted spoon, two baking sheets, a pot, frying pan, colander, oh it goes on and on and on. I’ll try some shortcuts next time, roasting the brussels alongside the squash, tossing the crouton ingredients in the roasting pan, etc. But there will be a next time — this is delicious, seasonal food — and that makes up for a lot, though Alex, right now elbow-deep in suds, might disagree.

winter panzanella

Winter Panzanella
Adapted from Michael Chiarello

For the croutons:
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
6 cups day-old bread, crust removed, cubed
6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:
1 small red onion, sliced thinly lengthwise
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Gray salt
4 cups peeled, seeded, and diced butternut squash (1/2-inch dice)
1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed, then quartered
1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over moderate heat and cook until it foams. Add the garlic and thyme, and immediately add the bread cubes. Toss to coat well. Add most of the grated cheese and stir. Transfer bread to a baking sheet and sprinkle with the remaining cheese and salt and pepper and gently toss again while still warm to melt the cheese. Bake stirring once or twice, until the croutons are crisp and lightly colored on the outside but still soft within, about 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside and let cool.

Soak the sliced onion in the sherry vinegar and a pinch of salt for about 15 minutes. Set aside.

Toss the squash with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil, sage, salt, and pepper. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake until the squash is tender and lightly caramelized, about 15 to minutes. Let cool.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the quartered Brussels sprouts and cook until tender but retain a touch of crispness, about 1 1/2 minutes, and drain.

Into the reserved red onions and vinegar, whisk in remaining 1/2 cup olive oil. Season with pepper.

In a large bowl combine the roasted squash, croutons, and Brussels sprouts. Add the vinaigrette and toss. Add the parsley leaves and toss again. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Garnish with grated Parmesan and serve immediately.


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