Shrimp and Melon Salad

Now, there’s an odd couple.  I’d never heard of such a combination.

I saw this recipe presented in an Italian TV programme featuring “Benedetta”, that’s the lady’s name, from somewhere in the countryside in the Marche.  Indeed, from somewhere in the countryside in the Marche very very close to where my mother-in-law hails from.  A small beautiful hilltop town called Monterubbiano.  We spent many Summer holidays there with our children.

Now, you have to understand that in Italy it is quite common to make fun of people’s regional accents and dialects.   Our son has been living in Milan for the last three years and by the way doesn’t have a strong Roman accent, not at all.  Even so, his colleagues will ask him to utter a few choice Roman phrases because it tickles them pink.   My husband and I are likewise tickled pink by this Benedetta’s accent from the southern part of the Marche (the north part speak more like they do in Emilia Romagna).  All this tickled-pink business is usually just gentle joshing but there are times when people can get a little snobby or downright mean when it comes to accents and that is where I part company.  I am very proud of the fact, for instance, that I can speak some Frascatan dialect, acquired via my grandmother Giuseppina, even though it does sound quite gritty and awful compared with ‘proper’ Italian.  So hats off to Benedetta from not shying away from her “Marche sporche” accent.  She finishes every recipe off by tasting what she’s prepared, giving it the thumb’s up and saying “fatto in casa per voi”  (which translates something like “I made it at home for you”) in her undisguisable sing-song lilt.

Well, she herself got this recipe from a fish and seafood restaurant run by a friend of hers (can’t remember the name), also from the Marche.  It looked so easy to make, I simply had to give it a shot.

The first time I made it, it was lovely.  The second time, not so good on account of the fact that the melon wasn’t much cop.  Had very little taste.  So I think that a good melon is the prime ingredient here.  For the rest … it’s easy peasy.  Take a look.

INGREDIENTS: Lemon zest, lemon juice, extravirgin olive oil, salt, pre-cooked scampi (mine were frozen), slices of celery

IMG_4518IMG_4519IMG_4520IMG_4521IMG_4522IMG_4523img_4524.jpgI haven’t bothered giving any written instructions because it’s all common sense – the pictures say it all, correct?

IMG_4525IMG_4526IMG_4527It can be prepared in advance and left in the fridge for a few hours, covered with clingfilm.

A word about the frozen shrimps.  I chose the best quality I could find and rinsed them in cold water countless times.  Neary all frozen fish is covered with some watered down ammonia or other preservative to stop it from spoiling.

Fresh shrimps would have been best, of course.

Sharing is Caring – Tomatoes and Hurrah for Box Graters !

I came across this article and simply have to share its wisdom.  Anything to make life easier in the kitchen!

N.B.  You can read the entire article on the following link: https://link.bonappetit.com/view/5cb4df6224c17c34e5575805aqcaf.m5iu/1cbf631f

It’s time to get saucy

We ran this genius method for grated tomato sauce in 2016, and I have been grating tomatoes ever since. No dicing, no slicing, no pulsing in a food processor. You can debate the best tomato to use in your marinara—plum, beefsteak, Campari, heirloom, canned?!?—but thanks to chef Ashley Christensen, who shared this trick with us, we know definitively that the easiest way to turn the flesh into sauce-ready pulp is with your 4-sided box grater. You know, the thing that you normally use to shred cheese.

Why is grating so great? (Sorry, not sorry.) First of all, it eliminates the need to find a knife sharp enough to cut through the tomato skin without smashing it to smithereens, which—let’s be honest—most of us don’t have. The curved cutters on the grater mimic the shredding action of an old-fashioned food mill, but with a lot less equipment clean-up involved. Plus, you can set the grater right into a big bowl to catch all the tomato flesh and juices and keep your cutting board free of all tomato liquid that inevitably runs onto your counter, and then down the front of your cabinet doors. (That’s not just a me thing, right?) Even better, as you scrape the tomato back and forth against the grater’s little blades, the skin will just split apart and peel back in your hand. When the skin is flattened and you’ve arrived at the stem end, you’re done.

But truly the most wonderful thing about grated tomatoes is how quickly they can be transformed into sauce, which preserves their bright, summery, fresh flavors.

Carla Lalli Music

Food director

Want more puns?! Follow Carla on Instagram @lallimusic

Polpette di Tonno – Tuna Fish-balls

I wrote this post on 18 September 2011 – Golly ! that is eight years ago.  And my feelings for September continue to be roughly the same.  Not my favourite month.  End of Summer.  Sigh.  The recipe, too, continues to be the same.  Reassuring.  Easy to make, and that’s a good thing.  And good for parties.

Sabaudia

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An Indian summer … although we’re half way through September … it’s so easy to enjoy the heat but too late to pretend not to notice that the days are getting shorter … and busier … and that any day now it will get brrrr-cross-your-arms-and-slap-your-shoulders-nippy and we’ll start having to wear sweaters and what have you and don slippers indoors instead of traipsing about bare foot.  It is as if a whisper of seasonal melancholy were subtly knocking at my front door. For someone who loves summer as much as I do, September is a very challenging month and can see me veering towards a moany-groany, want-to-run-away frame of mind.

This year I decided I would be grown up about it and do my best to stretch the summer’s feel of freedom as much as I could.  I tried to organise myself so that I could work in ‘chunks’ … and thus it was that a few days ago, I was able to scamper off to the beach at Sabaudia for most of the day.  It took us one and a half hours to get there but, as always, it was worth it. There were very few people about, now that people are back at work and children back at school.  The breeze was caressing as only a zephyr can be, the sea was still warm enough for me to swim in (I am such a wimp about cold water!) and it was all I could do to tear myself away and head for home as the sun began to set.  Aaaah.  Sigh …. isn’t the sun setting over the sea one of the most compelling sights to behold?

Ultra-organised, smug lady had prepared some vegetables the day before (a potato and celery purée and roasted bell peppers), had bought gorgeous fruit on the way to the beach, knew that wine was cooling in the fridge, so it was only a question of buying some chicken or meat on the way home and dinner was going to be a snap.  But, repeat, I had a very hard time of wrenching my body and soul from the siren call of the sea with the result that all the shops were naturally closed by the time we finally did drive past them.

I didn’t feel quite so smug then, as I took on the slim prospect for our main course that evening, knowing that just like Mother Hubbard, I was going to find the cupboard woefully ‘bare’ when I got there —  the ‘cupboard’, these days, naturally being the fridge and the freezer.  But thank goodness for Nursery Rhymes because I realised that there was indeed one food in my cubbyhole cupboard that was going to save the day: tuna fish packed in oil! Polpette di tonno … i.e. meatballs made out of tuna fish (technically the tuna doesn’t qualify them as ‘meat’-balls … but what else can one call them in English? croquettes? ugh).  How about … fish-balls?

The ingrdients: salted capers (which need to be rinsed and drained a few times to be rid of the excess saltiness), lemon zest (the zest you see came out of the freezer), parsley, two tins of tunny fish packed in oil (and please note that it wasn’t the top quality kind but still, a good kind), and last, and in the case of any kind of polpette, never least … the moistened bread (again, as I wrote in the other post on meatballs, ‘plastic’ white bread serves very well). You will also need an egg to bind the polpette mixture, bread crumbs to coat them and, optional, some grated parmesan cheese.

The tuna is drained of its oil and gets plopped into the blender …

Add the other ingredients.  Ordinarily, I would have chopped up the lemon zest before adding it for a ‘finer’ and more understated taste.  But that evening I was in too much of a hurry … and too hungry!

Freshly milled white pepper …  (Don’t ask what the coffee is doing in the photo … I expect it was lurking about near the stove when we got home and nobody bothered to put it back where it belongs).

Process the mix being careful not to ‘overwork’ it … it must not go all liquid-y.   Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and …

Add the grated parmesan cheese if you think you are going to like it.  We do and we did.

I put in about 4 heaped soup spoons.

One egg.  Mix everything up very well and if the consistency is not thick enough, add some bread crumbs to ‘toughen’ it up.

Shaping the polpette di tonno …

Coating them in bread crumbs …

All those polpette from just two tins of tunny fish!

Fry the polpette in plenty of oil and in small batches.  Remove with a slotted spoon and let them rest on some kitchen paper before serving.

I served the polpette over a purée of celery and potatoes (which I had made the day before), together with the peperoni al forno (which I had also made the day before):

Please note the size of the garlic … it is cut very ‘big’.  The garlic imparts an inimitably pleasing flavour to the overall taste of the dish and is thus very necessary.  However, not everyone, including myself, actually likes to eat the raw garlic itself.  The bits of garlic are large enough to be espied by even the most near-sighted diner and hence he or she can safely shove it out of danger’s way, to the far end of the plate.

The impromptu meal brought on by my stubborn desire to tarry a while by the sea reserved another surprise.  I remembered that we had some Canadian wild salmon in the fridge, which we ate accompanied by toasted bread and butter.  So … what was going to be a very ordinary though perfectly good supper turned out to be a bit of a feast.

It was half past nine by the time we sat down to eat.  Very late.  Very very late. The sort of naughty ‘late’ that seems fitting only during Summer, when time flows more slowly, ‘a misura d’uomo’, as they say in Italian, meaning ‘suitable or appropriate for man’.  And for yet another evening, I was able to ignore the whisper of seasonal melancholy subtly knocking at my front door.  It will bang loudly soon enough …

Pasta col Tonno Sfiziosa – ‘Fussy’ Pasta with Tuna

I am reposting another version of the classic pasta with tuna – one that can’t be made in a hurry and that requires a little attention to detail in the prepping phase.  Definitely worth the trouble, however, if you have the time and inclination.  I wrote the post in December 2014, that’s quite a while ago !

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It is very traditional to have a fish-only themed menu on Christmas Eve in most parts of Italy, including Rome.  Also traditional are foods fried in batter such as artichokes, cauliflower, broccolo, apples, cod fish etc.  Spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti in a clam sauce) are always a big hit.  And so is pasta with tuna – not fresh tuna but tuna packed in olive oil.

I stopped buying tuna a few years ago, after reading about the parlous state of this particular fishing industry.  I don’t want to sound all holier than thou over this decision and I am sure I am not the only one.  However, I also keep an optimistic attitude and look into reports on improvements (in Italy’s Mediterranean waters at least) and it would appear that the numbers of tuna have grown to the point that I can now resume eating it without feeling guilty (and being careful, of course, to choose the right brand).

The photos on today’s post were taken at the end of last summer, the tuna being a present from friends who had just returned from a holiday in Puglia.

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This tuna was A-star stuff, packed in proper olive oil and not some other substandard seed oil, and presented in a glass jar.

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Some tomatoes, a couple of cloves of garlic … and my new kitchen ‘toy’ – a tomato peeler.

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You don’t have to peel the tomatoes but I was in raptures of reverent tomato peeling activity and enjoying myself the way little children do when trying out a new toy …

IMG_9621IMG_9622A couple of anchovy fillets … and some lemon zest (for freshness).

Chop and de-seed the peeled tomatoes …

 

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Cook the garlic (careful that it doesn’t burn, it must cook until it is golden).

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Sprinkle salt all over the chopped tomatoes while the garlic is cooking …

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Get your pasta out (spaghetti would have been nice but I didn’t have any that day) …


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Add the tomatoes to the frying pan …

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After a few minutes, add the anchovy fillets …

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Taste … and add a pinch of sugar if necessary.


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It won’t take more than 10 minutes to have this sauce ready.  At that point, add some torn basil leaves and the lemon zest.  Switch off the heat.

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Sssssh … don’t tell anyone but I didn’t do such a good job of de-seeding the tomatoes.  Never mind.  I am still alive.

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Grate some pecorino cheese.  I think anyone who has been reading my blog for a while is fully aware of my reluctance to engage in cheese grating which is why I do my level best to fob this job off to any other family member or friend who happens to be in the vicinity.  It is important to have someone else grate your cheese for you, yes … but it is also important to make sure that the proper sized cheese grater is used.  See the photo above? The holes in the grater are too big … the grated cheese is not ‘fine’ enough for a pasta.  The finer the cheese grated, the easier it will be for the cheese to ‘melt’ completely into the sauce.  I know it sounds silly but it makes all the difference.

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While the pasta is cooking … drain the tuna.

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When the pasta is just about cooked, transfer it it to the pan with the tomato sauce.  Turn the heat on again and allow the pasta to finish its cooking time directly in the sauce.  If the sauce looks like it’s going to dry out, add some of the cooking water.

 

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Add the tuna last …

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Combine all the ingredients and switch off heat.
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The green bits are, I think, a mixture of mint and marjoram.  Parsely would be great too.

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Add the grated cheese last.

It is not ‘normal’ in Italian cuisine to mix cheese and fish together.  This recipe is one of the exceptions.  As is pasta with mussels and pecorino.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/pasta-al-tonno-variation/

Pasta col Tonno – Classic Pasta Recipe with Pre-Cooked Tuna

I am reposting a recipe I wrote back in March 2011.  It is a classic and it’s worthwhile keeping in mind when time is of the essence.  So think of this variation as the “quick and easy one”.

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At a restaurant not far from home last night, I was surprised to be served a dish made up of polenta accompanied by a tomato sauce and tuna – most unusual and very good too. Upon closer inspection, it transpired that that the tuna was not the fresh kind but, rather, the tuna that is packed in oil – you know, the kind one always keeps in the pantry for salads or for those just-in-case emergency occasions when a very hungry stomach (or two) will fight a very convincing battle with the brain when it presumes to think that cooking can’t be paramount on one’s list of priorities. And that is time to make a pasta and tuna dish so that both stomach and brain will be appeased.

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The ingrediens: some pasta, a jar of tuna packed in olive oil, a jar of tomato sauce, garlic, anchovy fillets and any fresh, green herb you may have around … in this case it was some marjoram.

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When one is in a hurry, it is best to think slowly and act quickly … so take a moment to ‘orchestrate’ the necessary steps.  First things first: put the water on to boil and pour some olive oil into a good-sized saucepan.

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Peel some garlic and cut in half and put it into the saucepan together with one anchovy fillet.  Turn the heat on a low heat (we don’t want the garlic to burn to a crisp) … and then open the jar of tuna and put it through a colander, and open the jar of tomato sauce.

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When the garlic has turned golden and the anchovy fillet has sort of dissolved …

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Add the tomato sauce.

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Put the pasta into the boiling water …

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Add some salt …

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Add a pinch of sugar too … it is the sugar and the salt that really ‘add’ taste to any tomato sauce because both ingredients are enhancers of taste: i.e. both ingredients make any flavour taste better !  That is why a little bit of salt is added even to sweet dishes.

I defy any chef worth his or her hat to deny that salt has no place in the kitchen ! People are absolutely terrified of salt and this is very silly indeed.  The important thing is to use only a small amount … in fact, only the RIGHT amount.

And as for those who worry about high blood pressure and all that that entails … please take the time to google around on the merits of untreated sea salt versus the very nasty chemically cleaned sodium chloride (here is one easy link to get you started: http://www.ecomall.com/greenshopping/salt.htm ).

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As the sauce sputters away merrily, add a sprig of your herbs …

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Followed by the tuna, drained of the oil it was preserved in …

Give it a good stir, gently breaking up the tuna so that it thickens the sauce.

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When the pasta is almost ready (i.e. two to three minutes before the cooking time recommended on the packet), you can drain it directly into the saucepan …

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If the sauce is a little too thick, you can ladle in a little of the cooking water … and keep cooking the whole lot until the pasta has ‘absorbed’ all the sauce and is ready to be served.

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The reason I insert this somewhat unappealing photo is to show that a jar of tuna and a jar of tomato sauce and 500 g of pasta can go a long way !  It can definitely feed four very hungry people …

 

 

Ready to eat … and it took just over 15 minutes from start to finish.  (For your information, the above pasta is the kind that takes 12 minutes to cook.)

There is nothing like a plate of pasta to placate a hungry belly AND a brain that thinks it’s too busy to cook …

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Salame di Tonno / Twice-cooked Tuna Rounds

INGREDIENTS

1

Did you know there is a semantic relationship between cod and salami in the Italian language?  I only just found out myself.

In Italian, calling someone a dried cod, i.e. “baccalà” is not a compliment.  The same can be said for name-calling someone a salami, in Italian “salame”.  Basically, you’re telling a person they are not very bright, that they are ‘thick as a plank’, rigid or just plain stupid in their thinking or acting.

I discovered that in the 1400s both pork meats and fish were sold by butchers (?) called “lardaroli”, meaning that both cured meats and salt cod were sold at the same store.  Both were salted.  And the word “salame” derives from “salamen” which itself deries from the Latin word for salt.  It turns out that these fish were salted, historically speaking, before meats were.  And if you look at a salame, well … it’s going to be pretty ‘stiff’, just like an entire salt cod.

Anyway.  About the recipe that I have dubbed “salame di tonno”, i.e. tuna salami.  Some Italians would call it a “polpettone” instead, the same word to describe a meat loaf.  I stick and abide by salame, because its shape is just like that of a salame – only it’s made with tuna, the kind of tuna that cames already cooked and preserved in oil in a glass jar or a in metal tin/can.  The kind that is stocked in every Italian larder to be eaten all year round, especially for those ‘just in case’ moments, when there doesn’t seem to be much other choice to which to resort.  And extremely often for the Christmas Eve fish-themed dinner.

Duing the warmer months of the year, this kind of tuna is often served with beans and for those brave enough, with slices of onion too.  This kind of tuna can also be added to salads.  It can be used to make little tuna meatballs.  It can be used to stuff tomatoes. And, for the rest of the year, this kind of tuna will be used to make a pasta.  You can see how indispensable this food item really is.  The next two posts are going to be about tuna pasta.

It was my sister-in-law Nadia who taught me how to make a tuna salame.  And the first thing that shocked me was the addition of a cheese – parmesan – and eggs to the recipe.  In Italy fish and cheese/dairy do not usually do a meal tango together.  The second ‘shock’ was that the recipe entailed cooking the already-cooked tuna … again.  How strange.  Once I tasted the end result, with a great deal of groaning over its goodness, all those ‘shocks’ melted away, never to return.

An added bonus to this recipe, is that it can be made in advance and even frozen.  I hope I am able to encourage you to make it.

DIRECTIONS

2

Start by draining the tuna by placing it in a colander.  The oil that gets drained is usually of poor quality so just chuck it.

3Place the drained tuna in a bowl.

456Add some lemon peel/zest and some salt and pepper.

7Mash everthing up with a fork.  By the way, you could put everything in a food blender if you preferred.

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9Add 1 whole egg per jar of tuna and combine with the fork.

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11Add 1 tablespoon of grated parmesan per can of tuna.  You could add a little more – you’ll have to taste and decide for yourself.

1213The same idea with the breadcrumbs.  Basically, you are going to add as many breadcrumbs as it takes to make the texture a firm one.

14Here we are – done.  Repeat, you can do all of this with the help of a food processor.  In which case you will have a more ‘refined’ texture.  Both are admissable, both are good.

PREPARATION BEFORE COOKING

1516Place the tuna on some parchment paper and shape the ingredients into a salame.  By the way, I did not do it in this photo but I would now recommend that you wet the parchement paper first – it makes everything a lot easier.  Proceed as follows, it’s basically common sense.

171819Now place the wrapped salame on a sheet of aluminium foil.

20The place it on another sheet.

21Done – nice and snug and hopefully watertight.

COOKING

Place in a pot of boiling water and cook for 20 minutes.

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By the way, it used to be traditional to wrap and cook the salame di tonno in a clean tea towel.

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Remove fromt the pot and remove the aluminium sheets and parchment paper too – careful they are very hot.

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At this point, once the salame has cooled down enough, you can wrap it in some parchment paper and freeze it or put it in the fridge for later use.  Wait for it to be completely cool before attempting to slice it.

HOW TO SERVE

Home-made mayonnaise is the classic option.  Any salsa of your choice would be excellent too.

Below are some other ideas.

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Unlike my dear gastronomic friend Phyllis Knudsen, I just adore anchovies.  So I added some to the slices before slathering a home-made salsa verde concoction over them.  So rich, mmmm.  Yep, a little decadent.  This was last year.

The other day I made a mayonnaise with fresh tarragon.  I never know what to do with tarragon so this was a welcome ‘input’ for me. (FYI I have tarragon growing in a pot on my balcony.  The only reason there is plenty of it is that tarragan doesn’t need much tender loving care to grow, it just ‘grows’, phew.)

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IMG_4347.JPGIMG_4350This mayo complemented the tuna salame very well.

Last, here it is served with tomato and some rocket/arugula – plain and simple.

IMG_4356IMG_4358The sky is the limit for any sauce you might care to add – the tuna will hold its own in terms of flavour.  It is robut without being too ‘heavy’ if you know what I mean.

Since it can be made in advance, it’s a great idea for parties.

Bread Salad – Panzanella

I wrote about a ‘special’ panzanella on this blog four years ago – ‘special’ because it added an ingredient that is not normally associated with a panzanella, in this case squid.

https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2015/06/21/antipasto-squid-panzanella-inspired-by-ristorante-pepenero-in-capodimonte/

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More recently, I read such a beautiful post about panzanella by Judy Witts Francini (of Divina Cucina fame) that I thought to myself: what IS the point of writing another one, you’d only say more or less the same things.   The one panzanella she didn’t mention is the one we make near Rome (panzanella romana), the one my grandmother would prepare for me as an afternoon snack (merenda).  Basically, it was just a lot of chopped tomatoes placed over a slice of bread, and seasoned with salt and olive oil.  Delicious.

The good thing about panzanella is that it can be prepared ahead of time and is actually great for parties.  Here is a photo of a huge panzanella I made last summer on the occasion of my sister-in-law’s birthday.

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And now, without further ado, but with imagined roll of drums and blaring of trumpets, here is the link to Judy’s post:

Panzanella – Why Tuscan bread is Saltless