Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Panzanella (Italian Bread Salad)


Recipe coming soon!

Update - here is the recipe.

Panzanella is an Italian bread salad that makes wonderful use of the bounty of summer - fresh, ripe, juicy tomatoes. Fragrant basil. Crisp cucumbers.

I always heard that it was a creative Italian way to use up stale bread. I've always loved panzanella, but was never really satisfied with different variations that I tried over the years. Until I picked up the September 2006 issue of Fine Cooking, one of my favorite cooking magazines. On the back cover I found a panzanella recipe that I decided to try, and have made about four times in the last month - it's delicious. Below is my adaptation, where I omit only the three tablespoons of chopped fresh mint (there are enough flavors in this salad, and I believe it doesn't need the mint).

Other recommendations - use good artisanal bread, if you have access to it. This is not the time to cut corners; this salad benefits from good olive oil, vinegar, fleur de sel, and freshly ground pepper.

One final note - it's best to add the bread to the salad just before serving so that it does not get soggy. You can mix the rest of the salad in advance (let it sit at room temperature - refrigeration affects the taste and texture of tomatoes), but add the bread at the last minute.

Panzanella
Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine, September 2006

Makes about 6 cups, and serves 4 to 6.

(4) 1/2-inch-thick slices from the center of a round sourdough loaf
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt or fleur de sel
freshly ground black pepper
1 small shallot, sliced into thin rings
3-4 tablespoons red wine vinegar (I like things vinegary, so I use 4)
1 small clove garlic, chopped coarsely
3-4 cups (about 1 1/2 pounds) tomatoes, chopped in a quarter-inch dice
1-1/2 cups small English cucumber, chopped in a quarter-inch dice
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained

Heat a grill pan (I just use a cast iron skillet). Using 1/4-cup of olive oil, brush both sides of the bread slices, and season with salt and pepper. Grill both sides of the bread, checking often, until lightly browned. When cool, slice the bread into 1/2-inch cubes and set aside.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, soak the shallot rings in the vinegar for approximately ten minutes. Using a slotted spoon, move the shallots to a large mixing bowl, and reserve the vinegar.

Sprinkle the chopped garlic with 1/4-teaspoon of salt. Using the side of a chef's knife, mash the garlic into a paste. Add garlic, 1/4-teaspoon salt, and 1/8-teaspoon pepper to the reserved vinegar. Whisk in 1/4-cup of olive oil to the vinegar mixture.

Gently toss the dressing, vegetables, basil, and bread together. Add more salt and pepper to taste, if needed.

Enjoy!

Note: Creampuffs in Venice offers her treasured family recipe for Panzanella, here.

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