Panzanella Tuscan Tomato Bread Salad and Rigatoni alla Toto

We are going Italian tonight! I love Italian food and I have ingredients that need my immediate attention, such as the cornbread muffins that are now going to replace day old, good quality bread in the Tuscan Bread Salad. I make gigantic cornbread muffins and freeze half of them for a later use. The problem is I had no later use for them and now I am worried about losing them to freezer burn. I figured I was being brilliant. Actually, I was, if appearance gets a low rating =). The cornbread didn't hold up to the dressing mix that gets drizzled overall. The resting period, along with remixing, broke the bread down to small pieces but the flavor was fantastic! I loved the change.
Panzanella is a peasant-style Italian dish. The salad is meant to look rustic and a way for the frugal to use up stale bread. Using the freshest ingredients in this salad really makes a big difference. Sprinkle the salad with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

The Rigatoni alla Toto is a simple dish that is fast and flavorful. Basically, an Italian comfort food. The sauce is a little on the thin side and the sausage links are suppose to be the bigger ones but altering the dish to whatever is comfortable is what these recipes are all about. The flavor in both are outstanding and easy weeknight dinners. . .my favorite =D.

Panzanella Tuscan Tomato Bread Salad
Recipe from my friend kukla
8 cups (2 L) day-old, good quality bread, cut into 1 1/2-inch (4 cm) cubes
4 large, ripe, field tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped (best you can get)
1/2 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 cup (250 ml) packed fresh basil leaves, slivered
1/4 cup (50 ml) extra-virgin olive oil (the good stuff!)
1 TBSP (15 ml) red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
1 tsp (5 ml) kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
In a large bowl, toss bread cubes, tomatoes, onion, cucumber and basil.
Mix the oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper, pour over the salad and toss again.
Leave the salad at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours before serving (to allow all the juices from the cucumber and tomatoes to get soaked into the bread), tossing again 2 or 3 times as it sits.
Rigatoni alla Toto
3 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped (OR shallots, garlic, or combination)
1 lb sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 cup dry white wine (or chicken / veggie broth, or combination)
A few fresh, roughly torn, basil leaves
Pinch of ground fennel seed, if using sausage that hasn't any fennel
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 lb rigatoni
1/2 cup grated Parmigiana-Reggiano (fresh is always best)
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add the onion (garlic / shallots / combination) and cook until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the sausage, brown it on all sides, then add the wine (chicken / veggie broth) and cook for 1 minutes.
Add the basil, ground fennel (if using), and cream, and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, or until the sausage is cooked through and the sauce is slightly thickened.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the rigatoni in the boiling water until al dente. Drain well and toss with the sauce.
Serve immediately with the Parmigiana-Reggiano and a grinding of black pepper if you like.


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