In what may seem like wizardry, rock-hard stale French or Italian bread may be transformed into a tasty meal when teamed with vine-ripened tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Panzanella, a summer salad with its roots in Tuscany, is such a dish, created from ingredients that would otherwise go to waste, are easy to obtain and, with the exception of high-quality EVOO, are very low in cost. In Italy, where EVOO is inexpensive, those virtues make panzanella bona fide peasant fare — a kind of cuisine that is popping up in the trendiest of restaurants all over America. In its most basic (and authentic) form, Tuscan panzanella consists of nothing more than stale bread, tomatoes, red onion, red wine vinegar, olive oil and basil, but many panzanella variations exist. I enjoy panzanella with fresh mozzarella and grated parmesan cheese. A friend’s version includes grilled shrimp. Regardless of your preference, good bread (the crusty, hearty kind) is always the headliner in panzanella, with tomatoes and EVOO, a close second and third. Working well as a main dish, or side dish, a respectable panzanella is only as good as its parts — so the bread — even that which has evolved into the stalest of the stale, must be top notch.
Sue Ade is a syndicated food writer with broad experience and interest in the culinary arts. She has worked and resided in the Lowcountry of South Carolina since 1985 and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuscan-Style Panzanella Salad
½ pound (about 8 cups) coarse-textured chewy French or Italian bread, 2 to 3 days old,
cut into 2-inch cubes
¼ cup to ½ cup water (to moisten bread)
Place bread cubes into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle bread with enough water to moisten, but not so much that the bread becomes soggy. Let bread sit for 5 minutes, then carefully squeeze bread dry. Place bread on paper toweling, allowing to rest for 15 minutes. While the bread is resting, make the “dressing.”
For the “dressing”
5 medium ripe tomatoes, diced
1 medium red onion, diced
Fresh basil leaves, torn into ½-inch strips
5 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh minced parsley, for garnish
In a bowl, combine tomatoes and onion. Add the basil, reserving a few pieces for garnish. In another bowl, whisk together the vinegar, garlic and oil, then pour mixture over the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper to taste; set aside. Place bread in a large, shallow serving bowl. Gently pour the tomato mixture over the bread, tossing gently to combine; allow mixture to sit for 30 minutes at room temperature so flavors can combine. Just before serving, add cheeses (if using), garnishing with reserved basil strips and minced parsley. Makes 6 servings.
Vidalia® Onion Panzanella
Recipe and photograph courtesy Vidalia® Onion Committee (www.vidaliaonion.org);
recipe contributed by Executive Chef Jay Murray, Grill 23 & Bar, Boston, Mass.
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 baguette, torn in 1-inch pieces, lightly toasted, about 4 cups
6 yellow or red Roma tomatoes, diced
Salt, pepper and sugar
8 canned artichoke hearts, quartered
1 Vidalia® onion, peeled and sliced in ¼-inch rings
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chervil or 1 tablespoon dried
1 tablespoon whole tarragon leaves
1 tablespoon chives, snipped into ½-inch lengths
Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Thoroughly rub inside of large wooden salad bowl with garlic clove. Discard garlic. Add toasted bread. Top bread with tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Add artichokes and onion. Add chervil, tarragon and chives; toss lightly. Add vinaigrette and let sit at least 15 minutes before serving, tossing occasionally. Serves 8.
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
In small bowl, whisk together vinegar, honey, mustard, salt and pepper. Whisk in oil. Makes 2/3 cup.
The word “EVOO” is popping up more and more these days.
Standing for “extra virgin olive oil,” EVOO is a good thing. Here’s why.
Coming from the first pressing of olives, extra virgin olive oil is produced without heat or chemicals —a process known as “cold pressing.” Along with preserving flavor, the process also preserves natural antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Extra virgin olive oil is an excellent choice for use in things like salad dressings, dips for breads and drizzles for roasted and grilled meats.
As comparison to EVOO, extra “light” olive oil refers to olive oil that is light in color and taste, not in the number of calories it contains. With its neutral flavor, extra light olive oil works well as a substitute for butter in most baking application, such as for cakes and cookies and is the best olive oil for frying due its high smoke point. When purchasing extra light olive oil, be sure to check labels carefully, looking for those that are comprised of 100 percent pure olive oil.
How to substitute olive oil for butter
1 cup butter = ¾ cup olive oil
¾ cup butter = ½ cup, plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
2/3 cup butter = ½ cup olive oil
½ cup butter = ¼ cup, plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup butter = ¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup butter = 3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter = 1½ tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter = 2¼ teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon butter = ¾ teaspoons olive oil