Friday, June 27, 2008

Inspiration or Perspiration?

I've blogged on many occasions about inspiration and my fascination with it. Picasso found his in the primitive forms of early African and Iberian art, Einstein sought scientific solace in the music of Mozart, and Walt Whitman was forever moved by a visit to New Orleans. My inspiration is not nearly as deep or complex, and is generally rooted in thoughts of, "What the hell am I supposed to do with Jerusalem artichokes?" Although I do truly find culinary inspiration in a myriad places when I have the time, the ideas for the food I make are based on two main thoughts. I'm usually either trying to find a way to use an ingredient that I carelessly tossed into my cart at the supermarket, or trying to find a way to put my own spin on an existing or classic dish.

Last night was a bit of the former and the latter, when it occurred to me that I'd purchased peaches. I have no memory of buying them, but there they were in my eco-friendly shopping bag: three ripe, golden peaches, ready for the eating. I considered saving them for dessert or eating them with sweetened Greek yogurt, but I couldn't reconcile avoiding the challenge of using them in a dish. I consulted the mental list of dishes I planned to make soon but hadn't quite figured out. Right at the top was a panzanella salad I had in the works, currently shoved on the back burner thanks to the tomato/salmonella scandal. I immediately got thinking about replacing the tomatoes with peaches. After all, the textures were comparable and both ingredients bring an element of sweetness to the party. Not to mention, the day old bread I'd been planning on using wasn't getting any more delicious as the days rolled on.

My only hesitation was that I didn't want the whole thing to turn into a sweet salad or some sort of lame fruit salad (don't ask me why I have a vendetta against fruit salad--it's a mystery even to me). Finally I realized that grilling the peaches in addition to the bread would be the best way to go. Although the sugars would develop as a result of the grilling, the lovely blackened flesh would lend itself to the application of savory flavors. I then made sure to salt and pepper the bread bits in addition to the whole salad, topped it with several pieces of delicious ricotta salata, and added in some little julienned bits of iceberg lettuce that I had sitting in the fridge. I coated the whole thing in some good Spanish olive oil, several splashes of red wine vinegar and lots of salt and pepper. I highly recommend trying to make this kind of salad for the summer. It can be as hearty as you want it to be, as sweet and salty as you wish, and makes a great light summertime dinner for those unbearably hot nights. Here's how mine came together:

Panzanella with Grilled Peaches

1/2 a baguette, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
2 peaches, peeled and cut into i inch pieces
1 cup ricotta salata, torn into pieces
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
extra virgin olive oil
red wine vinegar

1. Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet on medium heat. Add bread pieces and cook until browned on two sides. Season with salt and pepper and remove to a large bowl to cool.

2. Brush peaches with olive oil and grill (a grill pan will do) on medium high heat until browned. Add grilled peaches to bowl with bread.

3. Add lettuce and ricotta to bowl and dress salad with olive oil and vinegar, salad and pepper. Toss to coat and serve on individual plates. Enjoy!


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