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August 3, 2007 / Tony

Panzanella

I’ve waited all summer long to make this dish.  Panzanella is a rustic Italian salad originally created to use up stale bread.  I don’t know what an “authentic” recipe for Panzanella is (if there is one) but I find this recipe by Mark Bittman to be really, really good:

Panzanella

1 small baguette (about 8 ounces) or other crusty bread
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (good vinegar also works well)
2 tablespoons diced shallot, scallion, or red onion
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic, optional
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup or more roughly chopped basil or parsley

Start a gas or charcoal grill or preheat the broiler; the rack should be 4 to 6 inches from the heat source. Cut the bread lengthwise into quarters. Grill or broil the bread, watching carefully and turning as each side browns and chars slightly; total time will be less than 10 minutes.
While the bread cools, mix together the next five ingredients in a large bowl. Mash the tomatoes with the back of a fork to release all of their juices. Season to taste with salt and pepper to taste. Cut the bread into 1/2- to 1-inch cubes (no larger) and toss it with the dressing.
Let the bread sit for 20 to 30 minutes, tossing occasionally and tasting a piece every now and then. The salad is at its peak when the bread is fairly soft but some edges remain crisp, but you can serve it before or after it reaches that state. When it’s ready, stir in the herb and serve.

With MINIMAL Effort
Before grilling rub the bread, with a cut clove of garlic and/or brush it with some olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.
Add to the salad 1/4 cup chopped olives, 1 tablespoon capers, and/or 2 minced anchovy fillets.
For a one-dish meal, grill or broil some shrimp or boneless chicken alongside the bread, then add the chunks to the salad. Or add some leftover or canned tuna (the Italian kind, packed in olive oil) to the mix.

A few more of Mr. Bittman’s thoughts on this recipe can be found here.  Here’s a picture:

 img_0654.jpg

Of course, in a dish like this where there are few ingredients and little application of heat to those ingredients, top-quality ingredients are of the highest priority.  That fact is the reason for the first sentence in this post: I can only get good tomatoes during the peak of summer.  I wouldn’t even think about making this dish with supermarket tomatoes.  It would not be nearly as good. 

Anyway, on to some specifics.  I used No-Knead Bread instead of a baugette.  Fargo, ND has a glaring need for a quality bakery that provides good, European style breads.  As of yet, I have not found one.  Even a Panera would be better than anything we have here.  My feeling is that the bread is key to this dish.  It needs to have enough “character” in the crumb and crust to be able to stand up to the liquids it will be exposed to in the dish.  Otherwise, the dish will end up being mushy.  Some people may like that result but it’s not for me.  As you can see, I cut my bread rather large-about 1 inch cubes.  It made it a little harder to eat but it reduced the surface to mass ratio and hence aided my quest to keep the bread from getting mushy because it would be soaking up the surrounding liquids at a slower pace.  I also note that I rubbed the bread with garlic and brushed it with olive oil before grilling.  I think it adds so much flavor. 

The tomatoes were a combination of cherry tomatoes from my garden and a few tomatoes from my neighborhood farmer’s market (which by the way, is excellent).  They were outstanding.  Nothing is tastier during summer than a real, ripe tomato. 

I used a shallot in the dish for both the onion and garlic flavors (it has a bit of both), basil from the garden, Olio Carli extra virgin olive oil, juice from one lemon, and lots of salt and pepper.  I stayed fairly faithful to the amount of ingredients in the recipe, although I found that it needed more olive oil.  I also added 1 T of capers.  And I like to serve it over spring greens.  It lightens the dish and makes it pretty. 

 This dish seems to epitomize summer to me because you can grill and use produce from your garden.  The dish is light enough for a summer entree yet substantial enough to be satisfying.  The lemon juice and capers give it a perfect tartness while the the shallot added a nice sharp contrast to the sweetness of the tomatoes.  It was great.  This will definitely be making another appearance on my table this summer.  Enjoy. 

(Thanks to Katelyn for her invaluable assistance in preparing this dish.)

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2 Comments

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  1. Katelyn / Aug 3 2007 3:30 pm

    Along with your gorgeous panzanella, I hope I can make another apperance at your table this summer!

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