Thursday, February 7, 2008

Panzanella

Without trying to sound whimsical, I can honestly tell you that I was introduced to this dish in the kitchen of a Tuscan winery by an extraordinary woman who makes not only her own tomato sauce, pesto, and preserves, but her own wine and olive oil as well. Now that’s the kind of life I want to have one day. Indeed, my old buddy Jenna and I gained access to the indescribable culinary enclave at La Fattoria Santa Vittoria in Pozzo della Chiana on a carefree, whirlwind post-college-graduation tour of Northern Italy in the summer of 2006. Oh, the headiness of youth!
I think it goes without saying that this rustic, fresh salad is best served overlooking a sun-drenched Tuscan countryside, but such idyllic surroundings may be hard to come by in February. Panzanella is essentially a tomato basil salad with breadcrumbs or croutons to soak up the delicious dressing and make a meal out of the affair. I’ve seen tons of variations (one Mr. Oliver even goes so far as to employ a roasted bell pepper here and there alongside his usual bath of olive oil), but as long as everything is fresh, even with the barest ingredients, you’re still going to end up with something delicious. This is peasant food at its best if you ask me, and I know of no better way to use up day old bread and avoid my least favorite activity of throwing away food.

Now I’ll admit, this recipe would undoubtedly be at its peak in summer (I don’t even want to think about the food miles implicit in the cherry tomatoes alone—but sometimes in the dead of winter was have to find ways to trick our bodies into thinking that spring is around the corner, no?), but then when summer finally does roll around, you’ll have it tried and tested to lock away in your food memory bank for a cold day like this. I can’t stress the simplicity angle enough here, however because of this, the higher quality your ingredients are to start with, the better the end result. Also, if the idea of raw onion or garlic intimidates, feel free to omit them entirely, or alternatively soak the slivered offenders in cold water for a few minutes to take the edge off. So go ahead and try this EASY little number, close your eyes and meditate on la dolce vita
Panzanella

Ingredients:
Half loaf of day-old, good Italian country bread, such as ciabatta or pugliese, cut into cubes or processed into crumbs
1 box of cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cucumber diced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced into ribbons
Small bunch of basil, torn
1 clove garlic, finely minced
3 ounces of fresh mozzarella, diced (and a few Tbsp of brine, reserved)
Good olive oil
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

Directions: Place the bread (either cubed or crumbed) onto an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 170 degrees C/ 325 degrees F for about 8-10 minutes (you don’t want it to get too brown, just dried out, so keep an eye on it). While that’s happening, place all other prepped ingredients in a large bowl, season with a good pinch of sea salt and fresh pepper to taste. Allow the fresh ingredients to marinade for a few minutes. Add the bread and toss to combine, checking seasonings again. Serves 2 as a main course or 3 as an appetizer.

4 comments:

Michael said...

Aimee,

Another hit! Great suggestion to drive away the winter blahs. I got my hands on some heirloom tomatoes at a Southern California farmers' market this afternoon and enjoyed a treat as I gazed up at the snow cap on the San Gabriel mountains. Not quite Tuscany...but a little tomato romance without the usual guilt of the air miles from Mexico!

Emily said...

Wow. This looks fantastic. What sort of bread did you use? I'm curious. I see what you are saying about eating this when the weather is lovely, but it looks scrumptious now. sometimes you have to break the seasonal rule and go for the glory. Thanks for sharing. Can't wait to see what else is up your sleeve!!

Katy said...

Oh yum! I will be making this as soon as tomatoes reappear at the farmer's market! Great pictures, too!

Darcy Nicholson said...

AMIE - IS THS REEEEEEEEEEEEEALLY YOU!!??!!

Your writing, and your food, and your website, and your success, and your creations!!??!! I am filled with envy and in utter awe of you. I am proud and thoroughly impressed! You are probably laughing hysterically by now and thinking I'm crazy... However I have spent the last (probably 10??? years since I've seen you)with both an intense passion for food and desire to cook, constantly. Congratulations, I think this is wonderful! Hope you and your family are doing great - please send them all my love.
XO Darcy (Nicholson):)