Panzanella with Bacon and Sweet Balsamic Dressing

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As much as I’ve been trying to be very healthy lately, I have been and always will be a carb-aholic. I love bread of every shape and size and simply can never get enough. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise you that I would he a huge fan of a bread salad. And if you’re already making the salad out of bread, why not add bacon? Now that’s a salad!

I received some great little yellow tomatoes in this week’s farm basket and their color just goes so great with the bacon and toasted bread. However, you can use any kind of tomatoes you like. I also added some spinach to this so I could feel slightly less guilty while eating it. I topped this salad with a sweet balsamic dressing which was just perfect. I’ve already eaten two helpings of this salad today – and it’s not even noon, oops! Oh well, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I am!

And to make things even better, it’s Fiesta Friday!¬†Check it out and join the party!

Panzanella with Bacon and Sweet Balsamic Dressing
For the salad:
2 tablespoons salted butter
2 slices day old bread, cubed
3 pieces of crunchy bacon
1/2 cup tomatoes, chopped in half
1 cup spinach chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1/2 ball of mozzarella cheese, cubed

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

1. Add the salted butter to a pan on low heat. When the butter melts, add the bread cubes to the pan and cook until lightly toasted, about 8-10 minutes.

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2. In a bowl combine the bacon, tomatoes, spinach, green onions, parsley and mozzarella. Add the bread when it’s toasted and toss to combine all of the ingredients.

3. To make the dressing whisk all the ingredients together. Pour the dressing over the salad, enjoy!

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Roasted Stuffed Tomatoes

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These roasted tomatoes are a very quick and easy appetizer or snack. They’re the perfect combination of the soft roasted tomato, slightly crunchy baked breadcrumbs and melted mozzarella – you pretty much can’t go wrong!

These were also a great way for me to incorporate an awesome lemon bergamot balsamic vinegar I bought and can not get enough of. My mom and I discovered an olive oil and balsamic tasting room in Alexandria, VA that any foodie in the DC area should check out! Olio has tons of different oils and vinegars for you to try out – flavors I never would have even thought of. I ended up purchasing the lemon bergamot because it has a nice citrus note to it. I’ve been looking for more and more ways to incorporate this balsamic into my dishes (so let me know if you have any suggestions)!

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Roasted Stuffed Tomatoes
6 Roma tomatoes
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 small red onion finely chopped
1/4 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut each tomato in half lengthwise and scoop out the center. Place the hallowed out halves on a paper towel to draw out some of their moisture.

2. While the tomatoes are drying prepare the filling by combining the remaining ingredients in a small bowl.

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3. Place your tomato halves on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Carefully spoon the filling into each tomato.

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4. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the filling starts to look crisp and golden, enjoy!

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Arancini

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These arancini have quickly become a holiday favorite with my family. While we don’t do the full blown out Italian seven fishes dinner, we do avoid meat on Christmas Eve and make at least a couple of fish dishes. My mom introduced these rice balls to our vegetarian Christmas Eve menu a few years ago and they were an instant success.

This year I took on the arancini duty and am happy to have this recipe under my belt now.  While I usually shy away from things that need to be fried, these are totally worth the effort (and I usually make my husband do the frying part for me)!

Arancini
2 cups uncooked rice
1 container of small fresh mozzarella balls, cut in half
2 cups breadcrumbs
6 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese
1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
vegetable oil for frying

Note: I’ve found that it’s easier to make this recipe in thirds (as described below) to get the right texture for your rice mixture.

1. Cook the rice according to the instructions on the package and let it cool completely once cooked.

2. Place 1/2 cup of the breadcrumbs in a small bowl.

3. When the rice has cooled, add 1/3 of the cooked rice, 1/2 cup of breadcrumb, 2 lightly beaten eggs, 1/3 cup of grated cheese and 1/3 of the chopped basil in a bowl and stir to combine. The mixture should be just a little sticky, so you can easily roll it into a ball. If it’s too sticky, add a bit more rice.

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4. Take a small amount of the rice mixture and form it into a ball. Make a small indent in the middle of the ball and place half of one of the small mozzarella balls in it, cover it with a bit more of the rice mixture and roll into a ball.

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5. Roll each ball in the bowl of breadcrumbs and then set aside.

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6. Continue the same process until all of your rice is used up.

7. Heat about 3 inches of vegetable oil in saucepan on medium heat to 350 degrees. When the oil has reached 350 degrees carefully fry the arancini in small batches for about 4 minutes each, until brown.

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8. Place each arancini on a paper towel to drain and serve warm. These pair great with some marinara sauce, enjoy!

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