One of the best things about marrying into the family I married into is the vast store of new family recipes to investigate. My mother-in-law is happy to share recipes with me — one of my Christmas gifts one year was her mother’s old bescribbled and note-bookmarked cookbook, including the handwritten family recipe for ravioli — and I enjoy cooking with her when we visit. (The time she got busy during dinner prep and said “Laura, can you make bechamel?” and I said “Sure, about how much?” and she blinked, not quite believing that of course I could make bechamel, that it wasn’t something she had to explain, is a memorable one.)
Among the recipes I’ve nicked from her are a modification to the Near East brand of pilaf that she calls “boat rice”, fried whitefish with an almond-lemon sauce (which I cannot quite get right, but it’s getting there), Portuguese kale soup, and now panzanella: bread salad.
I have all these tomatoes, see, and the two main ingredients for panzanella are cubes of stale bread and coarsely chopped tomatoes.
She gave me both her mother’s old-school recipe, very simple and sour, and then her own variation, a neo-classical Italian concoction of tomatoes and bread and pesto, balsamic vinegar and olive oil, various optional add-ins. I opted for the version she makes when we visit, with fresh sweet onion, pesto with basil from my garden, and about 12 small ripe tomatoes that spilled from the vine into my hands.
My husband tells me that making panzanella is Secret Convert You To An Italian Test #18. I think I love kielbasa too well to ever be Italian, but surely “by marriage” is close enough.