Sunday, September 18, 2011

Panzanella Salad

I bought some beautiful heirloom tomatoes at the Farmers' Market last Sunday and during the week I just kept staring at them, wondering what I could make that would highlight the amazing flavor of these little guys.  I was paging through a recent issue of Cooks Illustrated when it hit me: panzanella salad!  Panzanella salad is a "peasant food" that is basically a bread-and-tomato salad, developed as a way to use day-old bread.  The people at Cooks Illustrated in their infinite wisdom tested and retested this recipe, and I have to admit, the result was spot-on amazing.  I could NOT stop eating this salad.  I kept going back for seconds...and then thirds...and then it was gone and I was very sad.  I used heirloom tomatoes, so the flavor of the tomatoes and the dressing was unreal.  You could just as easily use regular tomatoes, but I cannot imagine that the sad tomatoes at the grocery store would produce a salad so rich in flavor and texture.  So try it out using the tomatoes in season right now at your local farmers' market.  Heirlooms, if you can.  You're in for a tasty, salad treat!

This recipe is from Cooks Illustrated, changed minimally to suit my own personal tastes.  This will serve two people some very large salad portions.

3 small/medium heirloom tomatoes, cored, seeded, and diced
2 cups of hearty Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/3 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/2 shallot or 1/4 cup red onion, sliced thin
1 1/2 tbls red wine vinegar (or more, depending on your taste)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper
handful chopped basil

Heat your oven to 400 degrees.  Toss the bread cubes with about 1 tbls of olive oil.  Spread in an even layer on a baking sheet and bake the bread until lightly browned.  It should take about 10-15 minutes.  Set aside.

Gently toss the tomatoes with 1/2 tsp of salt.  Move tomatoes to a colander, and drain over a bowl for 15 minutes.  Don't toss the collected tomato juice! 

Put the red wine vinegar and reserved tomato juice into a small bowl and slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking rapidly.  Stop adding olive oil when you read the desired consistency.  You should have about a 1/2 cup.  Add the baked bread pieces to the bowl and toss to coat thoroughly.  Set aside for about 10 minutes.  (I put the colander of tomatoes over the bowl so the bread could collect even more tomato juice.)

Toss the tomatoes, cucumbers, shallot/onion, and bread together.  Add a handful of chopped basil and mix together.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with a delightful Oktoberfest beer (another reason I LOVE FALL). 

Epic dinner! 

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