I had a full and fun weekend which included attending a super-fun Interactive Lunch with Barilla here in town!

I love being able to travel and make onsite visits with the brands and companies I connect with, but there is definitely something to be said about not having to leave town to get the experience. The interactive lunch for local media was being held in conjunction with a local Wine Fest going on this week, and I was tickled to receive an invite. You know how much I love me some Barilla pasta!

As I mentioned, the lunch was “interactive” which meant we, as the attendees, would be cooking our own meal. Huh?! I’ll explain!

We were led by accomplished chef, Edmondo Sarti, who got his start by cooking in his uncle’s pizza shop in the small Italian town of Portomaggiore, as a boy. This experience led him to culinary school, followed by cooking in high-end restaurants all over the world. He currently lives in LA, owns several restaurants, and is a total charmer. Watch out Curtis Stone! ;)

Edmondo had set up cooking stations at each of the 10 or so lunch tables, and each table had to elect one person to cook the dish everyone else at the table would be eating for lunch. NO PRESSURE. Thankfully I wasn’t called upon to cook the Mezzi Rigatoni Puttanesca with Spicy Tomato Sauce he led us through first!


Salty olives and spicy chilies were sauteed, then simmered with plum tomatoes, and tossed with cooked Barilla rigatoni.


This dish came together in minutes, and was so flavorful. I inhaled my plate! Would you guys be interested in seeing this recipe?

Alas, my luck shortly run out, and I was elected to cook our next course of Branzino with Tomato Broth, Fresh Herbs, Fingerling Potatoes & Asparagus. 

It was actually really fun!

I sauteed fresh herbs and spices with veggies like asparagus and sliced fingerling potatoes, then added Barilla marinara sauce, white wine, and fish stock, and nestled fresh cuts of branzino, or sea bass, into the simmering sauce. The fish was tender and flaky in about 5 minutes AND since we poached the fish, rather than pan frying or sauteing it, there was no “fishy” cooking smell lingering in the room afterwards.

Ummm, sea bass might be my new favorite thing ever. It was creamy, tender, and so mild. Loved it!

While I truly adored the two recipes we cooked tableside, the dish I probably scarfed with the most intensity was the Panzanella with Cucumbers & Pickled Onions we had at the start of the meal.

Panzanella is a humble, day-old bread and fresh tomato salad drizzled with vinegar & oil. While it doesn’t sound that spectacular, I promise you, the kicked up version Chef Edmondo served at lunch was off the charts.

His version went beyond the classic combo I described above by adding crispy cucumbers, and quick-pickled red onions, for a fresh, flavor-packed salad I’ve been thinking about all weekend.


I knew I couldn’t wait more than a few days to taste it again, and luckily we were given all the recipes from lunch, so I whipped up the easy, FRESH, and ultra-flavorful salad at home today!


Start the Panzanella with day-old country style bread or, cut a fresh baguette into hunks to dry out for 30 minutes or so.


Cut the bread into bite-sized, 1/2″ cubes. You’ll need 1 cup total, which is about 1/4 of a baguette.


Next, toss the cubes in extra virgin olive oil. Barilla gave the attendees of the lunch this incredibly fragrant Academia Barilla Extra Virgin Olive Oil, but any good EVOO will do!


Edmondo used 2 Tablespoons of oil for one cup of bread, but I scaled it back to just 1 Tablespoon and thought it worked out just fine. The recipe also calls for a good amount of the oil to be added to the salad at the end, but I thought the salad was awesome without, so I’m witholding it from the recipe.

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Spray a foil-lined baking sheet with non-stick spray, then pour the bread cubes on top.


Bake for 7-10 minutes, or until the bread is deeply toasted. This is what keeps the cubes crunchy despite being drizzled with a delicious, vinegary dressing. Remove the toasted bread cubes to a plate to cool.


Meanwhile, make the pickled red onions that make this salad really fun.


Thinly slice 1/4 cup red onion, then add the slices to a bowl with a dash of salt, and splash of red wine vinegar. Let the onions hang out and get soft and mellow in the vinegar while you prep the rest of the ingredients.


Which includes 2 vine-ripened tomatoes.


Sliced & chopped.

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And 1/2 cucumber, quartered and chopped.


Add the pickled red onions to the tomatoes & cucumber, reserving the pickling liquid.


10 sliced basil leaves,


And 1/4 cup red wine vinegar (I used what was leftover from the onions, then added more to get 1/4 cup,)


Finally, season with salt and pepper,


and add splash of balsamic vinegar – just a teaspoon or two.


Add the toasted, cooled bread cubes then mix it all up!


Now if you think you won’t be able to get past anything but super-crunchy bread cubes, go ahead and eat. But, if you’re willing to put a little faith in the process, stash the salad in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes, while you get a couple chicken breasts grilled up to go with.


That’s just a chicken breast sprayed with non-stick spray, and seasoned simply with salt and pepper. Grilled for 4-5 minutes a side, or until no longer pink in the center.


Plate the warm chicken with the chilled salad, and get ready for a flavor explosion!


Panzanella with Cucumbers and Pickled Onions


Panzanella with Cucumbers and Pickled Onions is fresh, fast, and so delicious. Perfect for fresh summer produce!


Serves 4

  • 1 cup day-old country style bread, diced into 1/2" cubes
  • 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, divided
  • 2 vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cucumber, quartered & chopped
  • 10 basil leaves, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt & pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss bread and olive oil in a small bowl, then spread out onto a non-stick sprayed, foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 6-8 minutes, or until bread is deeply toasted. Remove bread cubes to a plate to cool completely.
  2. Mix together red onion, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, and a dash of salt in a small bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes.
  3. Combine tomatoes, cucumber, basil, remaining red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and salt & pepper to taste. Stir in toasted and cooled bread cubes, then let sit in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Serve and eat immediately afterwards.

This recipe is courtesy of Iowa Girl Eats, http://iowagirleats.com.


Fresh, fresh, and more fresh! While the veggies were cold and tangy from the mingling vinegars, the toasted bread cubes were savory and, yes, crispy!


I could seriously eat this Panzanella with Cucumbers & Pickled Onions every single day this summer. Perfect for a light lunch, or satisfying side, like I served it, with dinner. Thanks Barilla and Chef Edmondo for the awesome experience!