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My son and I make dinner together. Like driving carpool, making a meal is a great way to check in with a teen, to take stock of his mood and find out what's cooking at school and in his social life. We listen to Pandora (Coldplay-like tunes in heavy rotation) and make mashed potatoes spiked with wasabi. We laugh about events of the day as we prepare a salad with goat cheese and candied pecans.
It wasn't always this way. Gabe's a vegetarian by choice and was once a very picky eater, too. There were nights when I wanted to tear my hair out with the monotony: plain pasta, plain tofu, raw vegetables. This went on for several years. Now everything has changed. Gabe is taller than me. Since his voice recently broke, I sometimes call his cell phone voice mail just to hear his little boy cadence again. He has new friendships with kids I don't know whose parents I've yet to meet. I adore the young man he's becoming while at the same time I grieve the loss of the boy he once was. He's moving quickly toward an independent life.
And yet there's always "What's for dinner" to connect us. Gabe willingly tries new foods now and scours cookbooks for recipes that sound intriguing. Not long ago he suggested we make panzanella, that classic Italian bread salad that celebrates the best of summer's tomatoes, and we jazzed it up with mozzarella, red peppers, and lemon cucumbers. He was in charge of the dressing and kept insisting it needed more balsamic vinegar. He was right, of course.
My hope is that Gabe and I will always share the pleasures of the table, even when we no longer sit down to dinner together every night.
Sarah Henry lives in Berkeley, California, and writes the blog Lettuce Eat Kale. Her son is a zealous vegetarian and raw-food aficionado who also appreciates a good doughnut.
A great way to use day-old bread, this is a variation on the traditional dish, which is made without peppers or mozzarella.
Work: 15 minutes
Total: 30 minutes
1/2 loaf (8 ounces) day-old rustic bread
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
4 tomatoes, diced
2 small cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 small red onion, sliced
10 leaves basil, chopped
1 1/2 cups (8 ounces) diced fresh mozzarella
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut or tear bread into 1-inch pieces and spread on a baking sheet. Bake until it's dry and slightly crisp, about 8 minutes; set aside.
For the dressing, whisk together vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic; set aside.
In a large serving bowl, toss together the bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell pepper, onion, basil, and mozzarella. Add dressing and mix well. Allow salad to sit for 10 minutes before serving. Serves 6.
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