Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Heirloom Panzanella

I know I sound like a broken record but man, it's hot in Seattle! To the point where even when hungry, it's too much of a bother to eat. The most I feel like attempting is opening a bag of tortilla chips and dumping my favorite salsa into a bowl. But the BAR exam has begun and Tristan needs to be well-nourished.

So I decided to make Panzanella, the perfect hot weather food. It's a Tuscan bread salad which gainfully employs leftover, stale or day-old bread. I've actually always been fascinated by the way different cultures use stale bread, from French toast, fondue and gazpacho to fattoush, bread pudding and nutty olive oil dips. In the Mediterranean, stale bread is actually viewed as a pantry staple. And if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Fresh bread has a lot of moisture and can only absorb so much. Dry bread, on the other hand, is much more versatile and can take on loads of flavor.

Basic Panzanella consists of bread, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, vinegar and salt & pepper. Depending on personal taste, onions, cucumbers, olives and cheese can also be added. There is, however, some controversy over its proper preparation. Traditionalists insist that the bread be soaked and then drained and crumbled, while the unconventional cube and toast it. I love tradition but I have to admit, I favor the toasted.

I would guess that the average American throws bread out once it becomes stale, or perhaps turns it into bread crumbs at best. There are so many alternatives out there, and Panzanella is one of the finest.

Heirloom Panzanella
This is a delicious way to use up day-old or stale bread. Feel free to experiment - the addition of cucumbers, olives or feta add a different dimension.

1/2 baguette, cut into 1-inch pieces
7 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
8 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced into bite-sized chunks (or leave pearl-style whole)
2 lbs heirloom tomatoes, cut into wedges
Fresh basil leaves

Heat oven to 350° F. Place bread cubes onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil; toss well. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt; toss again. Spread into a single layer and toast in oven, stirring once or twice, until dry and golden, 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

In a small bowl, cover red onion with cool water; set aside.

Rub the inside of a large salad bowl with cut garlic clove. Pass garlic through a press and add to bowl. Add remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt and pepper. Add mozzarella and drained red onion.

About 15 minutes before serving, add dry bread and tomatoes to bowl. Roughly tear basil leaves and add to salad; toss well.

1 comment:

Tristan said...

This stuff is sooooooo goooooood. I could eat panzenella every day for the rest of my life. Make this!