They say that April is the cruelest month, but I find that for me, it's July. It's July because that's when I start fantasizing about chucking everything and running off to Italy or the south of France (with a detour through Paris, of course). Yeah, I'm probably a little spoiled, a little too princess-y, if this is the stuff of my fantasies, rather than, say, pondering where my kid is going to college, or making the world a better place: but hey, we all have to dream, don't we?
I blame it on my friend Jo, who's such a connoisseur of sites like Italianvillas.com (it's real, check it out), and frenchvillas.com, that most summers, we find ourselves piled into a big old house in some bucolic spot, laden with wine,food and song, all for relatively little money. That was in the days when we all had some money, of course.
I'm not helping myself by reading books that take place in Provence (the lastest is a Grail thriller, called Labyrinth), which brings on spasmodic cravings for baguettes, unpasteurized cheese and figs, all washed down with a glass of Grenache. Or by marching over to the neighborhood farmers market armed with the stiped linen bag I bought in Siena, "Per il Pane" intricately embroidered on its front. (I filled it with figs, cherries, tomatoes and corn today ... I already had the bread).
So I try to cure it by cooking. Given that I'm lucky enough to live in LA's delicious Mediterranean climate, it makes it easy for me to stand around in my kitchen and pretend that the knobs on the stove say chaud et trés chaud, and that I've got latte and grana stashed in the fridge. Now, if I could just locate Marcello the pool boy ...
And the dish that always transports me? Panzanella. My friend and former partner in crime, Michael Chiarello, always described Italian food as "the cuisine of preservation," and nothing brings that to mind better than a salad made from old bread. Ah, but such old bread! When you combine it with the freshest of summer tomatoes, juicy, crunchy cucumbers, good olive oil and vinegar, and that most controversial of ingredients -- anchovies -- you have the essence of Italian summers, tossed in a bowl, right in front of you.
So, today is a day for panzanella. My favorite recipe comes from Savoring Italy by Robert Freson. which is one of those cookbooks that you drown in, it's so beautifully written and photographed. Unfortunately, it's out of print, so you'll have to find it at a used bookstore, or drop by my place to look at my well-worn copy. (Say you're a Wine Gique and I'll let you in.) Sara Moulton has a lovely recipe, as well.
Wine pairing? Well, given the weather, I'm always tempted to run down the street and grab a bottle of my favorite Luna Pinot Grigio, but for this dish, I feel compelled to be a little more authentic and drink something we'd really tote to the villa in Italy: 2007 Rocca di Montegrossi Chianti Classico. And at $20 a bottle, it's a pretty cheap trip to Tuscany.
Buon appetito, i miei amici. Ci vediamo di fronte al Duomo, sarò quello con il vino.