Monday, April 29, 2013

Artichoke and Tomato Panzanella

This past weekend I made my annual pilgrimage to Fort Worth to attend the Fort Worth Opera.  Before you think that I have gotten all cultured on you, my sister-in-law is in the development department for the opera and she is doing her best to make me more worldly.  With her personality, charm, knowledge and love of opera, she could convert just about anyone.  Before you dismiss the idea, this opera, The Daughter of the Regiment, was not what you might think of when you hear “opera”: it was funny, in English, bright and energetic, and no one dies.  The vivaciousness from the performers permeated the audience and brought lots of laughter, applause, “bravos”, and a standing ovation at the conclusion. I am no Scott Cantrell, but even he says that it “is a hoot” and “easily the area’s most entertaining operatic experience” for 2012-13.

There is still time to take part in this year’s Opera Festival which runs through May 12.  Darren Woods, general director of the FW Opera, returns to the stage after a 16 year hiatus as the butler and his funniest and dual meaning line is “I run this place!”  Yes, you do, and you do it so well.   
Before heading to the opera, have some panzanella as part of your dinner.  This recipe was inspired by Giada De Laurentiis.  I like the addition of artichoke to the typical tomato and bread salad.  Opera and panzanella – now that’s Italian!

Artichoke and Tomato Panzanella
1.      3 cups 1 1/2-inch-cubed french bread
2.      One 10-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed (about 2 cups)
3.      2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4.      1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
5.      1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
6.      3 large red tomatoes, cut into bite size pieces (about 2 pounds)
7.      1 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
8.      3/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (about 1 bunch)
9.      1/4 cup red wine vinegar

There are 2 ways to toast the bread and cook the artichokes: oven or grill.  I used oven for this preparation.  Oven: Preheat oven to 300.  In a bowl, toss the bread with some olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  Spread the bread on a baking sheet and bake for 7-10 minutes until slightly crisp, but not super crisp like a crouton.  On a separate baking sheet, cook artichokes until golden brown on the edges, 10-15 minutes.  Grill: Place a grill pan over medium-high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill. Drizzle the bread and artichoke hearts with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the bread and artichokes until golden brown at the edges, about 6 minutes total, turning every 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the bread and artichokes from the grill and transfer to a large bowl.
Add the tomatoes, olives and basil to the bowl and toss to combine.  In a small bowl, stir together the olive oil, red (or white) wine vinegar, 1/2 t salt and 1/2 t pepper.  Drizzle the dressing over the salad.  Toss to combine and serve immediately.

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