July 18, 2008
Have you ever had panzanella? I hadn’t until a month ago. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of it, though I guess it’s standard fare for Italian restaurants. What can I say? My restaurant attendance skews heavily toward Asian.
But there I was, at Bar Toto in Brooklyn, desiring lighter fare than a generously oiled panino with a huge plate of fries. And panzanella—bread salad, so said the menu—caught my eye. It was delicious. It didn’t seem complicated. I had to make it.
This dish centers around stale bread, dressing, and tomatoes, and I gather that beyond that anything (or at least a great deal) goes. I made this for the Fourth of July (which, I feel compelled to state, I celebrate purely for celebration’s sake) and it was a hit. It beat the green tea cupcakes! And they’re cupcakes! Perhaps, however, the market for vegan green tea cupcakes is limited. But I digress. My panzanella is inspired by Bar Toto’s, hence the olives. Plus I really like olives. But consider this recipe a guide; feel free to add whatever you have on hand that seems appealing—or subtract whatever you don’t, that doesn’t. Although it looks complicated, it’s really quite simple and could be made even simpler by not roasting the tomatoes.
A note on the bread: ideally it should be stale, but in a tropical D.C. summer leaving it out overnight barely toughens the crust. If it’s still soft, toasting works fine (toast the slices, then break them into strips).
Makes a Big Old Salad Bowlful (Serves Eight?)
1 small-medium loaf stale/toasted Italian or other crusty bread, sliced and torn into strips
1 box cherry tomatoes, roasted (see below)
1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved (measure after pitting)
2 tablespoons capers
¼ cup basil, chopped
½-¾ cup vinaigrette (see below)
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
For the tomatoes
To roast tomatoes, preheat oven to 400˚F. Toss washed and dried tomatoes with olive oil, kosher salt, and fresh ground pepper. Place on a baking sheet and cook 10-15 minutes, until tomatoes are wrinkled and slightly collapsed.
For the vinaigrette
½ cup olive oil
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
a few dashes salt
Place all ingredients in a jar. Shake vigorously.
And now, the panzanella
In a large salad bowl, combine bread strips, roasted tomatoes, olives, capers, and basil. Toss. Add vinaigrette to taste, a little at a time and tossing in between since the bread will absorb it quickly; you have ¾ cup and may use up to all of it (I recommend ½ cup as a minimum). Add salt and pepper to taste. Dress (the salad, that is) a half hour before you plan to eat it.