Beet and Roquette Panzanella

Image property of The Entertaining House/Jessica Gordon Ryan

I've gone farmer's market mad. Crazy. I cannot get enough fresh produce. I cannot tell you how incredibly different the produce is fresh from the farm. Grocery store produce cannot compare. Organic grocery store produce cannot compare. It cannot begin to compare. I've been obsessing about tomatoes of late, as you've noticed if you are a regular reader. But there's so many other wonderful things... everything is in season now. Everything. I'm a huge beet fan. I adore them. But I think beets are like cilantro. You either love them or you hate them. (I also happen to be a huge cilantro fan!)

During the summertime The Westport Farmer's Market takes over the entire Imperial Avenue commuter lot with vendors from farms across the state. But we're not talking just fruit and veggies. We're talking organic meats and cheeses... plants, wonderful breads, Mexican foods, salads, salsas, desserts, coffee, honeys and even a pizza truck... You haven't had anything until you've had pizza made from the back of a truck! Don't feel badly, this is organic pizza made with fresh ingredients from all these wonderful farms and vendors. Doesn't get better than this! To all my local peeps, if you haven't been, you really ought to. I promise you won't be disappointed. Full list of vendors here.

Today I loaded up my arms and bags with fresh cantaloupes, tomatoes of all varieties and sizes, wonderful multi-grain bread, beets, salad greens, an incredible quinoa salad (another new addiction) and an old addiction, an amazing spicy out of this world spicy gazpacho...

I'm a huge salad lover. Especially when made with fresh fresh fresh greens. I'm a huge sandwich lover as well. And often I'll layer fresh veggies in between two slices of fabulous bread.Any combination of veggies, raw or grilled will do. When it's hot out, I prefer raw, especially when tomatoes are in season and bursting with flavor.

When the bread gets stale (meaning it hasn't gotten gobbled up within hours, which is rare around here!) I love to make Panzanella. Panzanella is a traditional Tuscan salad that consists, primarily, of bread and tomatoes. Anything can be added to it to enhance flavors and textures. Popular additions are onions, olives and cucumbers. I made a variation for lunch the other day that used less bread and more veggie - I added mini rocquette (also called rocket or arugula) beets, tomatoes and mozzarella. I created a base layer of green then piled up 1 large diced beet and 1 medium tomato, some of the mozzarella, a handful of stale bread, cubed. I drizzled some olive oil over the top and added some salt and pepper. With vegetables this fresh I prefer not to mask their flavors with salad dressing.

The best breads for panzanella are the rustic ones... good hearty breads with good chew. You don't want a bread that is overly stale, for that you're best bet is to grill or toast them for crostini or croutons. For panzanella you want a bread that is a day or two old. Still fairly soft but not enough to get soggy from the olive oil and tomatoes.

Entertaining the Family

In the summertime we tend to head off to go visit my parents, but during the school year, with our busy lives and schedules, it's easier for my parents to come to us. They usually arrive at around 10:00, stay for a few hours and take off when the kids start driving them batty! Wish I could do the same... Oh wait, I do! I send them off to school!

Our visits usually center around food, so as soon as I got up this morning I had to prepare for lunch and dessert. I was so busy running around yesterday that I had no time for the prep work that I thought I would have.

But what a difference it makes getting the house ready for company when you have three kids in school for a whole day! I spent most of Thursday tidying and vacuuming, Windexing, etc. Alexander went off on a play date after school on Friday so I had the added bonus of another day of "freedom." This freedom allowed me to get so much accomplished, not inside the home, but outside the home. I spent my Friday running errands that are normally so challenging and stressful, but without children it's truly amazing how liberating errand running can be! I went to the bank, our local baker to pick up fresh rye, semolina, challah and sour dough breads. Then I went to get my hair cut (5 inches!), to CVS, to get the car washed, to the grocery store, to our local farm store, to pick the kids up from school and then to take them all to the school's Family Fun Night.

When people come from out of town, I like to give them a taste of the wonderful things we have in our area. Our town has so many wonderful farms and farm stores, that I like to use these ingredients as part of our meals. I decided that today we would have a large salad for lunch. I wanted something light as I was also serving dessert. I served a large salad, served on a platter, that everyone could help themselves to. The sweet tomatoes were fresh off the vine divine and the lettuces, splendid. I browned up some chicken in various spices for a little protein and made the most marvelous dressing by adding some red wine to the pan to scrape off some of the wonderful spices. I added the liquid, about 2 - 3 tablespoons to vinegar, olive oil and mustard. A perfect red wine vinaigrette. The salad was devoured as was the bread and the red wine.

We had a lovely visit and the kids got plenty of individual attention from Moo and Popsy as I cooked in the kitchen. We had to wait a little while between lunch and dessert so Alexander got to open his Birthday present from Moo and Popsy and the kids surprised Moo with flowers and cards for her. Her Birthday was last weekend. Finally, dessert was ready. The cake was cooked and had cooled enough to eat. Let the celebration continue! With bellies full, we sent Moo and Popsy home with their flowers and some of our apple picking prizes!

After my parents took off and I had cleaned up sufficiently, Daddy and I decided to relax for a bit in the family room. We decided to check out the much acclaimed and much talked about Mad Men television show. After just a few moments I was hooked! We ended up watching 3 episodes, and now, as I type this I'm watching another one! I simply cannot get enough!

I have decided that I love everything about the Sixtees. I love the dress and the lifestyle... especially the all day cocktail hours! I have decided, however, that I could not live in that era as the home decor is atrocious!

Our large salad featuring items from a local farm along with some seasoned chicken
and fresh bread made a perfect light lunch

The amazing Apple Cake we had for dessert. The recipe is on my food blog,
The Entertaining Kitchen

A picture of the apple cake, and my mom!