In the spirit of full disclosure, this month’s Cottage Cooking Club post will make you weep. In fact, it’s a two-weeper. Since I’m not the sort to hold back, suffer in silence, I feel inclined to share the pain.

PANZANELLA, recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage Veg

PANZANELLA, recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage Veg

Cottage Cooking Club is a group devoted to eating our vegetables. With able assistance from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg cookbook, we are discovering unique and more creative ways to put nutrition on our tables. Every month our leader, Andrea, an award-winning blogger at The Kitchen Lioness, sends ten recipes for our consideration. We then make our choices.

Knowing July would be a busy month, I picked two classics: Panzanella (recipe here) and Eggplant Parmigiana (recipe here). Panzanella, a Tuscan bread salad, is considered an Italian national treasure. The late, Italian cooking legend Marcella Hazan described it best. “Throughout Central Italy, from Florence to Rome, the most satisfying of salads is based on that old standby of the ingenious poor, bread and water. Given the right bread – a gutsy, country bread such as that of Tuscany or Abruzzi -,” Hazan continued, “ there is no change that one can bring to the traditional version that can improve it.”


Unfortunately, like most classic dishes, every cook has a tweak or two. Link to the Pinterest site, type in Panzanella and, mamma mia, you’ll find 60 different bread salads. Gingerbread? Brussels Sprouts? Amaranth? Seriously? While Whittingstall’s version doesn’t venture too far off the rails, I was intrigued by his tomatoey dressing followed by his technique to moisten the bread. No water for this guy.

My friend, Donna Grauer, asked me to Theatre Aspen’s Little Women production (husband, Bernie, was a no-go for LW). Wouldn’t a light supper, a little wine, be a gracious before-the-theatre touch? The Grauers are card-carrying Italianophiles so Donna, unlike me, knew her Panzanellas. We found this bread salad flavorful and refreshingly light. If needing to satisfy bigger appetites, we agreed that protein, an entrée, is needed.

This is what a Before-the-Theatre soirée looks like in the mountains.

This is what a Before-the-Theatre soirée looks like in the mountains.

We all are familiar with Louisa Mae Alcott’s Little Women. Right? The theatre production, a musical, Jo, Beth, Meg and Amy, was wonderful. At Intermission, Donna handed me a wad of Kleenex, “Here, you’ll need this,” she said.

And, we did. I’ve read this novel many times. It’s a story. I know Beth dies. I’ve known that for more than 55 years. And, yet, when Beth died in the play, we could hear the sniffles, see the tears, throughout the theatre. My first weep.

EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA, coming out of the oven

EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA, coming out of the oven

If you return to Pinterest and do a Eggplant Parmigiana-search, you will again find 60 different recipes but very few variables. Eggplants. Tomatoes. Cheese. Quell è tutto. The techniques are similar. No one crawls too far out on that limb. Whittingstall’s recipe is easily put together and very, very good … I think.

This is where the second weep begins. I made this dish late Wednesday afternoon in anticipation of my daughter’s visit. It’s a 14-hour drive from California and Melissa would arrive Thursday evening, weary and hungry. My welcome-to-Aspen dinner would be the requested greens salad, Filet Mignon, (cooked John Lester-style) and fresh green beans. The Eggplant Parmigiana would be a Mom-addition to dazzle and impress.

That's three small bites for me.........

That’s three small bites for me………

This is what went down. I pulled the EP out of the oven, took two or three bites, pleased with the result. After taking photos, I set the dish on the counter to cool and cleaned up the kitchen. The evening passed quickly with last-minute chores. Then, to bed. The next morning I discovered the EP sitting on the counter, cooling! Since I had already once poisoned my son-in-law with an unrefrigerated leftover corn dog, I decided against going 2-for-2. I’m still hearing “Do you remember when Gramma poisoned Dad?” at family gatherings. With a very heavy heart, I tossed it. Second weep.

Melissa and I walked through the breathtakingly beautiful John Denver Sanctuary.

Melissa and I walked through the breathtakingly beautiful John Denver Sanctuary. She will only know about the Eggplant Parmigiana if she reads this post. I do have my pride.

You can find this post’s recipes here and here. I suspect my colleagues chose to make other great recipes this month. Visit them at our CCC site.