Which is kind of a bummer, really. I'm so white bread. I don't have the first clue how to say "mozzarella" or "biscotti" like Giada does. Eating that stuff, though, is a different story. I am pretty good at that.
Italian food. I don't think there's any cuisine I love more. Espresso, cheese, wine, pasta, pesto, olives, basil, tomatoes tomatoes everywhere.
And Panzanella, also known as Italian bread salad. I'm sure my version - based on the Ina Garten version and the version I personally think is the most perfect salad ever - is Americanized to the nth degree. It's also insanely delicious.
The bread is more like big, beautiful croutons than limp mounds of soggy stuff (which, I admit, the first time I heard of bread salad, this is what I imagined). Olive-oil-toasted bread hunks along with rustic chops of green and red peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet onions, green olives, and basil plucked fresh from the garden, then tossed with a nice olive oil and balsamic dressing kissed with Dijon mustard. This stuff makes me want to write run-on sentences.
Here in Seattle, we're finally seeing a few tomatoes ripen. Why not find a use for that half loaf of stale bread you've got laying around, and a couple of those amazing tomatoes? Oh, and here's the audio file of how to pronounce "Panzanella" so you don't have to go around saying "Panzaneeya" or "Panz... [mumble, trailing off]." Not that I ever did such a thing.
Serves about 4
Adapted from Ina Garten's Panzanella recipe
- 1/2 green pepper
- 1/2 red pepper
- 2 medium tomatoes
- 1/2 cucumber
- 1/2 medium sweet onion (red works too, if you like)
- 15 leaves of fresh basil
- 15 or so green olives, cut in half if they're big
- 3-4 cups bread cubes (from a one, two, or even three day old loaf of rustic, crusty bread. This is the perfect use for half that leftover baguette, I think.)
- 5-6 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar (I'm sure regular ol' balsamic would be equally tasty)
- 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon finely minced garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Fresh ground black pepper to taste
- Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saute pan. Medium heat.
- Keeping the heat on medium, add the bread cubes and the salt, and toss.
- Stir frequently, for about 10 minutes, until the cubes are nice and toasty and brown. Add more olive oil as you go - 1 tablespoon at a time - when the pan starts looking too dry. I usually end up using about 6 tablespoons of olive oil.
- Remove bread cubes from heat.
- Chop up the veggies, trying to keep the sizes as uniform as possible, as follows. Toss in the bowl as you go.
- Cut the green and red peppers in half, and deseed. Chop into bite-size squares.
- Peel the cucumber half. I like to leave a little peel on for color. And then slice the peeled half lengthwise into quarters, and chop into bite-size pieces.
- Cut the tomatoes into wedges. Throw 'em in.
- Cut the onion in half and slice one half thinly. Separate the rings into the salad bowl. This time I used a beautiful fresh Walla Walla onion from the farmer's market. Yum.
- Layer the basil leaves on top of one another and cut them into wide shreds. Add to the bowl.
- Cut the olives in half if they're on the big side. And throw those in, too.
- Make the viniagrette: In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients.
- Add the bread to all of those good-looking veggies, pour in the vinaigrette, and toss well.
- Top with a sprinkling of more kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste.