When life hands you lemons, make doughnuts!

Oh dear readers, I'm so sorry for neglecting you lately.  I hope you're still out there.  Life has just gotten away from me.  Planning a wedding (which is only 136 days away!) having a job that just won't quit, and going to the gym like it's my job leaves my plate very full these days.  Sadly I have been neglecting the things that matter to me most, like cooking and babbling into the blogosphere.  It's been over a month since I've actually cooked anything besides a salad, which requires absolutely no cooking at all.  Absolutely pathetic , I know!  Luckily John has been making delicious meals so I don't have to live off of string cheese and grapefruit.    

So in a very grandiose effort to fill this void, I decided to make doughnuts.  But not just any doughnuts, the most beautiful and delicious doughnuts my meager brain could think of.  I so desperately needed, as if I really just might die , to make the greatest doughnut known to man.  Luckily for me, I'd never made a doughnut in my life.  Sure, I'd eaten plenty, and that counts for something, right?

I will be the first to admit that there are a LOT of failures in the Pickled Rose kitchen.  For some reason, we don't talk about those nearly enough.  Now I wouldn't say my doughnut adventure was a complete failure.  They were actually pretty good for a first try at them, but definitely not what I had imagined, and could use a whole lot of work.  The size was inconsistent, you could taste the frying oil, and the vibrant purple glaze was almost untraceable against the darkness of the over-fried doughnut holes.  My blackberry doughnuts with blackberry lavender glaze were not the epitome of beauty or taste, but they were a reason to get back into the kitchen, and in the end that was all I really needed.

The Terrible 2's

So, it's been two years since the humble beginnings of Pickled Rose. We started with 4 or 5 regular readers, and in the intervening years, our readership has doubled. At least. If you're one of those few people, thank you. I really do mean that.

So, what are we doing for this blog's second birthday? Well, befitting anybody's second birthday, there's alcohol involved. For the parents, of course. Websites can't drink. Don't be ridiculous.

Anyway, we decided to come up with a cocktail. This drink requires only one specialized ingredient, and it's one that you can make yourself with two simple ingredients: pepper and vodka. 

This cocktail combines the classic flavors of citrus and bourbon with the spice and earthiness of pepper vodka and fresh sage. Pepper vodka is quite easy to make - it involves combining whole peppercorns with vodka, letting it steep for several days, and then straining it.

Pepper Vodka

  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 750 ML vodka

In an airtight container, combine the pepper and the vodka. Place in a cool, dark place and allow to steep for 3-4 days. Taste a small amount (just a few drops) every day or so, until the pepper flavor is very pronounced. When the flavor reaches the desired intensity, run the vodka through a fine strainer, and discard the peppercorns. Store the pepper vodka in an airtight container, away from heat and light.

Terrible 2's

  • 3 oz. bourbon
  • 2 oz. of orange/lemon juice mixture: juice of 3 blood oranges and 1/2 of a Meyer lemon, combined.
  • 1/2 oz. pepper vodka
  • 3 fresh sage leaves
  • Ice cubes

In a small bowl, mix the orange and lemon juice. 

In a cocktail shaker, combine the bourbon, 2 ounces of the blood orange/lemon juice mixture, the pepper vodka, the sage leaves, and a few ice cubes. Shake until the cocktail is chilled and mixed, about 30 seconds.

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Pour into a chilled glass, and garnish with a sage leaf, if desired.

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Enjoy. Here's to two more years.

Boyfriends and Bolognese

My high school boyfriend and I used to celebrate our "anniversary" every month with the same romantic gesture.  I would bake him a batch of chocolate chip cookies and he would get me a rose for every month that we had been dating.  We'd walk through the halls hand in hand, parading around our tokens of affection for each other like two young puppies in love.  Our relationship lasted for a year and three months, which in high school time is more like 3 years.  For our one year anniversary I planned a romantic dinner for two at my house, and what better dish to prepare than homemade lasagna.  

In my family lasagna was made only for very special occasions, and rightfully so.  Lasagna is truly a labor of love.  I had seen my grandmother make lasagna several times, an all day process that was not to be taken lightly.  The par boiled noodles would be set out to dry in between red and white striped kitchen towels lining the kitchen table, and the smell of bolognese sauce cooking on her avocado green stove would perfume the house, reassuring us that this meal would be worth the wait.  

I asked my mom for the recipe, but like most of the recipes in our family, there wasn't one written down.  This was a dish learned through watching, a recipe that changed slightly with every generation it was passed down to.  My mom did happen to leave me with a few words of advice: water is lasagna's worst enemy.  Like a good kid, I did as I was told.  I drained the ricotta overnight and let the par-boiled noodles sit out to dry between kitchen towels just as I had seen my grandmother do so many times before.  I relied on my strong Italian genes to instinctively make a bolognese sauce, letting it cook all day long until it was thick and meaty.  Each layer of lasagna was carefully crafted until the large glass dish was full to the brim.  Sauce, noodles, ricotta, mozzarella, repeat.        

That was my first and last lasagna in nearly 15 years.  

I didn't avoid this recipe for all these years because I made it for the first guy to break my heart, or the fact that it takes more than a day to make.  And to be perfectly honest, I can't give you a straight answer as to why.  But this time of year, with Valentine's Day having come and gone so quickly, got me thinking about why we cook.  Sure, eating is a necessity of life, but we choose to cook things that are labor intensive or make something from scratch that could just as easily be bought at the store.   Even the simplest of meals says a lot about who are as humans.  I take great comfort in sitting around the kitchen table laughing and sharing stories, or even in silence, just knowing that the meal in front of me is a such a thoughtful gift.  Cooking a meal for someone else is the most sincere gesture of love.  So let us all make lasagna and show our special someone just how much we care.  And even if you only make it once, or every 15 years, I promise you it will be worth the effort.

Lasagna

 

Ingredients:

2 lbs ricotta cheese, preferably whole milk

1-1 1/4 lbs Italian sausage, approximately 6 links

3 tablespoons olive oil

8 oz. pancetta, diced 

1 lb ground beef

1 lb ground pork

1 sprig fresh rosemary

4 sprigs fresh thyme

2 sprigs fresh oregano

2 bay leaves

1 medium yellow onion, minced

1 head garlic, minced

1, 6 oz. can tomato paste

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

1/2 teaspoon red chili flake

1/2 tablespoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup red wine

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

3, 28 oz. cans crushed San Marzano tomatoes

1 cup grated smoked mozzarella

2 cups grated provolone 

3 cups grated mozzarella

1 cup grated pecorino

1 heaping tablespoon fresh basil, chopped

1 egg

4 large sheets fresh pasta dough, approximately 18 x 18"

*I put my own spin on this lasagna by adding pancetta to the bolognese sauce, and then played up its smokiness by adding smoked mozzarella to my cheese blend.  I also used fresh pasta to avoid the hassle of pre-boiling the noodles and drying it out for hours.  I did have to give the pasta a quick rinse to remove the excess flour, and pat them dry a bit, but using fresh pasta noodles was a huge time saver.      

The Night Before:

Drain ricotta in a large mesh strainer over a bowl.  Cover strainer with plastic wrap and leave in refrigerator over night to drain until you are ready to assemble the lasagna.

The Next Day:

At least 4 hours before you want to serve the lasagna, start the bolognese sauce.  In a large 6-7 quart soup pot , preferably enameled cast iron, heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat and add Italian sausage.  Brown the sausage, approximately 3-5 minutes per side.  Remove from pan and set aside.  In the same pot cook pancetta for 6-8 minutes until it has browned and the fat has rendered a bit and crisped up.  Remove from pan and set aside.  In the same pot add the ground pork, breaking it up into small chunks with a wooden spoon.  Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the meat has cooked on the outside.  Don't worry if it's not cooked all the way through.  It will finish cooking in the sauce.  Remove from pan and set aside.  Repeat this step, cooking the ground beef this time, until it is almost completely cooked through.  Drain all fat from pot and wipe clean.  

Prepare bouquet garni of fresh herbs and bay leaves in a cheesecloth satchel.  If you don't have cheesecloth, tie the herbs together with cooking twine for easy removal later.  

Over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sweat the minced onions and garlic in the soup pot until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Next add Italian seasoning, chili flakes, garlic powder, salt, and tomato paste.  Cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly until the tomato paste has thickened slightly and darkened in color.  Deglaze the pan with red wine and balsamic vinegar.  Continue stirring to scrape up any brown bits that may have formed on the bottom of the pan.  Add crushed tomatoes and stir to combine the tomato paste mixture.  Then, return all of the meat to the pot.  Give everything a good stir and throw in the bouquet garni, burying it in the sauce.  Bring sauce up to a boil, cover and then reduce heat to low.  Let the sauce simmer for at least 2 hours.  3 would be better.  Make sure to stir and taste occasionally to check if the sauce needs any additional seasoning.  Somehow the bolognese gods were with me the day I made this and I didn't have to add anything else to the sauce.  I just let it cook for hours and the flavors developed wonderfully on their own.  At the end of 3 hours, your sauce should be very thick.  Remember WATER IS THE ENEMY!!  

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While your sauce is simmering grate all of the cheeses in a large bowl.  Mix so that everything is well combined.  Next, prepare the ricotta.  Discard the liquid in the bowl and wipe it dry.  In the same bowl combine ricotta, egg, and basil, and divide into thirds.  

Next, you'll want to give your fresh pasta noodles a bath to remove any excess flour.  Carefully run the sheets under warm water in the sink.  Some of the noodles may want to tear, but that's OK, you'll have to cut the sheets to fit in the lasagna pan anyway.  Lay the noodles flat onto kitchen towels to absorb the excess water.  

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Once your sauce is ready, it's FINALLY time to assemble the lasagna.  In a deep 9 x 13" baking dish, spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom.  Next, put a single layer of pasta noodles over the sauce.  Fresh lasagna noodles are fairly thin, so if you like your lasagna to have more of a noodle presence, double up your noodle layer.  If you decide to do this, be sure to double the amount of pasta called for in the recipe.  Next spread 1/3 of the ricotta mixture on the noodles so that most of the pasta is covered.  Sprinkle approximately 1 3/4 cups of the cheese mixture on top of the ricotta.  Cover the cheese layer with more sauce and then repeat the whole process until you have 3 layers of ricotta.  The last layer should just be sauce and grated cheese.  

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the cheese is melted on top and has browned slightly.  Let the lasagna rest for at least 10-15 minutes before cutting into it.  Serve with a side of Italian sausage, and if you're feeling really gluttonous, some garlic bread.

Winter Soba Salad with Miso-Grapefruit Dressing

Sometimes I'm a little slow on the uptake.  I recently just had soba for the first time, and I don't know why I waited so long to try them, but I'm very glad that I did.  Soba is Japanese for buckwheat, and that's exactly what these noodles are.  The thin, chewy, buckwheat noodles have a distinctly nutty flavor, unlike any other noodle that I had tasted before.  Needless to say, I was hooked at first bite.  Traditionally soba is served in a hot broth, or cold with a light dressing or dipping sauce.  I chose to take the cold route for the colorful winter salad.

Hearty greens and citrus are bountiful at our local farmers market this time of year, and while I tend to easily grow tired of what seems to be an eternity of kale,  this salad rejuvenates my love for all the great produce that winter has to offer.  I should also mention, although I hate to admit it, that this dish is 100% vegan.  It felt wrong just typing the word,  but I promise you that this recipe is so packed full of flavor that you'll forget all about that steak you wanted to eat for dinner tonight.

This winter soba salad is made of several components, all with different flavors and textures.  Roasted butternut squash adds sweetness to the tangy, pickled watermelon radish and umami flavor of the sautéed shiitake and yellow oyster mushrooms.  Throw in some baked tofu and kale for crunch, top it all off with a sweet and salty miso-grapefruit dressing, and your soba noodles were never in such good company.

Winter Soba Salad with Miso-Grapefruit Dressing

 

Ingredients:

Salad

  • 1 1/2 cups diced (roughly 1/2" cubes) squash
  • 6 ounces firm tofu, cubed (roughly 1/2" cubes)
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1/2 cup very thinly-sliced watermelon radish (regular radish will work if you can't find watermelon radish)
  • 1/2 cup + 1 teaspoon rice vinegar 
  • 3 cups sliced shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 cups yellow oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 3-3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 2 tablespoons sherry
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 4 cups chopped Lacinato kale (also called "dinosaur" kale)
  • 6 ounces of soba noodles
  • 2 green onions, diced, for garnish
  • Black sesame seeds (optional), for garnish

Dressing

  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoon white miso paste
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Make the Dressing

In a small mixing bowl, combine all the dressing ingredients except the oil. Then, slowly whisk in the oil until combined.  Set aside to let the flavors meld until the salad is ready to be assembled.

Assemble the Salad

Preheat oven to 375. 

In a bowl, dissolve 1 1/2 cups of salt in hot water.  Place the tofu in the saltwater, and set aside for 15-20 minutes.  Discard the water, and pat the tofu dry with paper towels. 

In a small bowl combine the rice vinegar and 1/2 tablespoon of salt.  Stir until the salt has completely dissolved.  Place the sliced radish in the vinegar/salt mixture, and set aside until ready to assemble the salad. 

In a large bowl toss the tofu and squash in a small amount of olive oil (approximately 1-1 1/2 tablespoons), and arrange the pieces on a baking sheet in a single layer.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, turning occasionally, until the tofu and squash are brown and crispy on all sides.  Remove from heat and set aside until salad is ready to be assembled.

While the squash and tofu are cooking, sauté the mushrooms.  In a medium-sized skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil on medium-high heat.  Add the mushrooms, and 

sauté for 5-6 minutes, until browned on all sides.  Next, add soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of rice vinegar and sherry, and cook mushrooms until the liquid is gone.  Season with salt and pepper as needed.  Remove from heat and set aside until salad is ready to be assembled. 

In large bowl season kale with salt and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Massage the oil into the kale until all the leaves are evenly coated.  Next, drain the radish and discard the pickling liquid.  Set aside until the salad is ready to be assembled.  

Boil and drain the soba noodles according to the instructions on the package.

While the cooked ingredients are still warm, toss the noodles, tofu, squash, mushrooms, pickled radish, and kale in a large salad bowl.  Add the dressing to the salad mixture a little at a time, until everything is well coated.

Arrange the salad on a large serving plate, and garnish with the black sesame seeds and sliced green onion.

Nasturtium "Capers"

In the Bay Area, and many other parts of the country, the nasturtium plant is ubiquitous. It grows quickly and easily in our climate, and produces beautiful flowers for much of the year. It also happens that every part of the plant is edible. 

The flowers and leaves can be eaten raw (they have a nice peppery taste that goes will in salads), and they can also be stir-fried. For this recipe, however, I used the seed pods. Like the rest of the plant, they have a strong peppery taste, and when pickled, are pretty similar to capers. If you have a nasturtium plant growing on your property, you'll be able to make a pretty much unlimited supply of these things. They're great in salads, on sandwiches, or as a late addition to sauces that need a little extra bite. You can also eat them by themselves.

You want to pick the seed pods when they're still green and fresh. When they dry out, they become hard, bitter, and inedible. Generally, you want the ones that look like this:

If they've lost their green color, they're too old, and will taste awful. 

Anyway, on to actually making them.

Nasturtium Capers

  • 1 cup freshly-picked nasturtium seeds
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 large pinch dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 4-6 peppercorns
  • 1 cup boiling hot water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon salt

Rinse and drain the nasturtium seeds to remove any dirt or bugs that might be clinging to them. Pour the seeds into a 1-pint jar, and cover them with a mixture of 1 cup boiling water, and 1 1/2 tablespoons salt. 

Let them cure in the saltwater, covered and at room temperature, for 3 days.

After 3 days, drain and rinse the seed pods again, discarding the saltwater, and wash the jar. Return the seeds to the jar.

Bring the vinegar, sugar, thyme, pepper, and bay leaf to a boil in a small saucepan. Pour the hot mixture over the nasturtium seeds. Cover the jar, and allow it to come down to room temperature. Refrigerate the capers for 3 days before using. Refrigerated, they'll keep for several months.

An Evening with Ina

Despite the fact that I need to get up at the crack of dawn to be at work to alleviate a potential art shipping emergency, there is something that I need to get off my chest.  I think Ina Garten is snooty.  There, I said it.  I know the world is in love with the Barefoot Contessa, and I've wanted to feel the same affection for her too, but I just can't foresee us being BFF's anytime soon.  

Tonight I attended a moderated interview between Ina Garten and the current CEO of Yahoo at Dominican University.  I accepted the gracious invitation from my future mother-in-law, ever so curious to see what the Barefoot Contessa was like off camera.  Turns out she is exactly as I imagined: pretentious, somewhat likable, and really has a love for cooking and entertaining.  I guess two out of three ain't bad.  I've seen her show a million times and have always liked her style of cooking, but have never felt a connection with her like I have other celebrity chefs.  Perhaps it's the way she mentions her husband Jeffrey every five seconds and prances around the Hamptons like she belongs on Gossip Girl.  Let's face it, I'm definitely more of an Anthony Bourdain or David Chang kind of gal.  

Honestly, I think that Ina has a really interesting story.  She was a former White House nuclear policy analyst who bravely decided to change careers and open up a specialty food store.  She has had no formal culinary training but is a New York Times best selling cookbook author and Food Network star.  I think it's great that she's able to do what she loves and gets paid to do it, but I so desperately wanted to be inspired by her story or have her share some words of wisdom.   Something to give me the courage to take that same leap of faith and follow my own dream, which is not that far off from the one she has realized for herself. 

Perhaps I was expecting too much.  I wanted a story and person that I could relate to, but Ina's answers were mostly shallow and left me wanting the real story.  When presented with the question "What has been your biggest failure?" she claimed that she has never really failed.  Maybe it was just her self acknowledged type A personality talking, but I found her answer to be pretentious and quite frankly, dishonest.  Everyone fails now and again, and it's these failures that help us to learn and grow.  We get it, you're highly successful, but even Kim Kardashian would have had a more honest answer for us.  

In the end I walked away with a signed copy of Ina Garten's new cookbook Barefoot Contessa Foolproof, and I hope to find more truth in her recipes than the facade she tried to fool us with.  

 

Sometimes, Things Don't Go Perfectly

I thought it might be interesting to write a post about one of our many failed attempts at making a dish that didn't go very well. It wasn't an unmitigated disaster, but it was definitely an object lesson in the importance of making sure that your abilities match your ambition.

I had bought some duck eggs from the farmer's market, and decided to use them to make pasta. After some discussion, Becky and I decided that a duck ravioli would be a good use of the richer-than-usual pasta that we were going to make. After doing a few searches for duck ravioli recipes, I felt that I had the gist of it, and decided to go for it, combining ingredients and techniques from a few different recipes into something that I could reasonably call my own.

The idea was to make some large ravioli with a filling of braised duck, along with trumpet mushrooms and a little bit of pork.

So far, so good

After searing the duck, I braised it for a few hours in chicken stock, a little bit of orange juice, and some fresh herbs.

After a few hours of braising, the duck was tender enough to easily separate from the bone. I set it aside to cool, along with the braising liquid, and in the same pan sauteed some trumpet mushrooms, onions, garlic, and little bit of ground pork.

The idea was to puree all of this stuff together in a food processor, turning it into a mixture that could be be manipulated in small quantities to use as a filling, and mixing in a duck egg to ensure that it all holds together.

Now doesn't that look appetizing?

That also worked reasonably well. And the pasta dough I made (from a pretty generic recipe I found online) also came together nicely. Things were looking pretty good at this point. We even had the artsy-fartsy photos ready to go.

So, what went wrong? A few things. First of all, we didn't have a pasta maker, and tried to roll out the first batch of dough by hand. It became very clear, very quickly, that this wasn't going to work. By the time this realization set in, it was getting late, so we decided to call it a night and start over the next day, which we figured wouldn't be too hard since the filling and pasta dough were already made.

The next day, we bought a pasta maker, and rolled out the dough properly.

Things didn't exactly go perfectly from there. I overworked the dough, so it turned out tough. The ravioli were too big, with too much dough for the amount of filling.

After cooking the ravioli, and sauteeing them in a little bit of butter, garlic, and sage, they tasted decent enough, though a few of them broke open while cooking, and ended up full of water.

Would I try making ravioli again? Of course, and there will probably be a real recipe for it on this blog sooner or later. 

When it comes to cooking, or anything you're passionate about, you can't be afraid to fail. In fact, letting a fear of failure dictate your actions pretty much guarantees failure. Just go in knowing that not everything will work, and chalk up the failures as a learning experience. 

Summer Panzanella Salad

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Growing up in the midwest, summer was filled with hot sun, Cubs baseball, and my Grandmother's homegrown tomatoes.  She had a small garden in her backyard where tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and bell peppers would grow plentifully every year.  The tomatoes were so sweet you could eat them like apples.  

This Summer panzanella salad takes me right back to that place.  It is fresh, bright, and packed full of all the wonderful flavors Summer has to offer.  My little spin on this classic bread salad is the addition of a basil and chive pesto.  The pesto brings an herby punch to the sweet tomatoes, smoky zucchini, and tangy vinaigrette.  The key to making this recipe is using the freshest ingredients you can find.  I really can't stress this enough. Take advantage of your local farmers market or your own backyard garden, because Summer will be gone just as quickly as it came, and it's just too sweet to let pass by. 

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Summer Panzanella Salad

Ingredients:

1 1/2-2 lbs zucchini

1 1/2-2 lbs tomatoes

1 large sour baguette

parmesan cheese

2 cups chives, loosely packed

2 cups basil, loosely packed

Juice of 1 lemon

1 2/3 cups olive oil

1/2 shallot, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon dijon mustard

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

salt

pepper

Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees.  Cut baguette into 1" cubes and spread evenly onto a baking sheet.  Toast bread cubes in the oven for approximately 20 minutes or until the bread is slightly dried out and crunchy on the outside.  This step is very important.  If the bread is too soft it will become soggy once tossed in the dressing.  

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While the bread is toasting, prepare the basil and chive pesto.  Puree basil, chives, lemon juice, and 2/3 cup of olive oil in a food processor until a smooth paste forms.  Season to taste with salt, about 1-2 good pinches.  This yields about 1 cup of pesto.

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Next, make the dressing by combining the shallot, garlic, dijon mustard and vinegar in a small bowl.  Season with salt and pepper and then slowly drizzle in 1 cup of olive oil, whisking vigorously, until the dressing emulsifies.  Set aside and let the flavors meld, about a half hour or so.  This yields approximately 1 1/2 cups of vinaigrette.  

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Once the pesto and dressing is made, prep the veggies.  Cut the tomatoes into small wedges and slice the zucchini on a diagonal into 1/4" slices.  In a large bowl lightly coat zucchini with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Toss until all of the zucchini is coated evenly.  Heat up a grill pan on high until almost smoking.  Cook zucchini for 2-3 minutes per side, or until nice brown grill marks are made.

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In a large bowl combine bread cubes, tomatoes, and grilled zucchini.  Toss with about 1/2 cup of vinaigrette until everything is well coated.  Place salad onto a large, flat serving tray.  Drizzle on some of the pesto and garnish with parmesan shavings.