Discovering the world of soggy bread-based dishes this year has been a revelation. Ever since trying out the fabulous springtime panzanella, originally posted on Well Fed, I’ve been chomping at the bit to try a more traditional panzanella as well. I put it off and put it off, hoping that I could wait until my homegrown tomatoes were ripe this summer, but finally I caved in and did a test run with store-bought tomatoes instead. We must have dozens of green tomatoes on our plants now, but not one with a hint of redness yet. No doubt they’ll all ripen at once, leaving us with such a glut of delicious, sun-riped tomatoes that we won’t know what to do with them all.
In the meantime, if it’s a choice between panzanella using store-bought tomatoes or no panzanella at all, there’s no contest. This was one of those dishes that made me wonder how I had managed to live 30 years without ever trying it! While quite filling (it is, after all, a salad based on bread!), the fact that it requires no cooking, just some chopping and mixing, makes it perfect for a hot summer day. You’ll find lots of recipes for a classic panzanella, also known as a Tuscan bread salad, in cookbooks and online but I used the one in The New Best Recipe (by the America’s Test Kitchen food geeks), a cookbook that invariably yields excellent results and appeals to the pseudo-scientist in me. And just to spice it up a little more and give it a bit of the flavor of a caprese, I also added ciligne, small balls of fresh mozzerella, available at Trader Joe’s.
Admittedly, calling this a salad is a bit of a stretch, and it would send Atkins and South Beach fans running, but for those of us who love and can’t live without great bread, this salad is a must. It’s a particularly good way to use up old, stale bread, although I’ll confess that I was so excited to try this panzanella that I actually made a loaf of the fabulous and shockingly easy no-knead bread (originally posted in the NYT) and let it sit out for a couple of days just for this purpose.
Panzanella (or Tuscan bread salad; serves 4 as a main course)
1 lb day-old coarse peasant bread or sturdy Italian bread, cut or torn into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 large, ripe round tomatoes or 4 plum tomatoes (1 lb total), cored, seeded, and cut into medium dice
1/2 small red onion, sliced very thin or minced
2 tbsp torn fresh basil or mint leaves
2 tsp minced fresh oregano leaves
1 tbsp minced fresh parsley
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
approximately 5 celigne (mozzerella balls) per person, cut into bite sized pieces (optional)
1. Place the bread cubes in a shallow bowl. Mix the oil, vinegar, tomatoes, onion, and half of the herbs together in a medium bowl. Let stand to allow flavors to develop, 10 minutes.
2. Pour the dressing over the bread, add the remaining herbs, and toss well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If the bread still seems dry, sprinkle with 1 to 2 tbsp water to soften it a bit and toss again. Serve. (If sturdy bread is used, the salad can be covered and set aside up to 2 hours.)