Panzanella (Bread Salad)
When the bumper crop of tomatoes starts to pour in, we need to find ways to use them before they go soft. Enter Panzanella stage right. A traditional rustic Italian salad made of chopped tomatoes, stale bread, basil, onion, and garlic--that are then dressed up with olive oil and vinegar. The bread soaks up the tomato juice and dressing and that's how you get a salad that transforms into the best kind of late summer comfort food.
And as it turns out, in August, we have every single item in the ingredient list on hand fresh from either the field or our friends at MadHouse Vinegar. Our only changes to the traditional dish are to grill the bread a bit and to add a few cucumbers into the mix for their satisfying crunch.
4 large Tomatoes (or lots of smaller ones. It's pretty to use many different kinds)
4 tsps Kosher Salt (2 tsp for tomatoes/2 tsp for bread)
1 loaf of crusty day-old bread (Sourdough is best, but whatever is on hand)
1 Head of Garlic
2 medium Onions
a fist full of Basil
1 cup Red Wine Vinegar (MadHouse Red Wine Vinegar if you have it on hand)
3-6 TBSPS Honey (Carriage House Farm)
Good quality olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
This comes together as fast as you are at chopping and dicing. So, get your grill going for the bread (or turn on your broiler) to have it ready in 20-30 minutes.
Chop your tomatoes first--chunky bite-sized pieces--and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons kosher salt. Place in a colander or sieve set into a medium-sized bowl. These should rest for at least 15 minutes to let the salt pull water out of the tomatoes. The released tomato water will be used in the vinaigrette.
Rough chop cucumbers. Dice Onions. Mince garlic. Hold aside the garlic, then toss the cucumbers, and onions into the large bowl you will use to serve your panzanella to guests.
In a large roasting pan or baking tray, pour olive several glugs of olive oil, your tablespoon of garlic and a few pinches of kosher salt. Mix those with together with your fingers or a spatula and spread it out in the pan. Cut bread into at least ¾ inch thick slices and put them in the pan. The point is to get a bit of the salty garlicy oil on all of the bread. The bread slices don’t have to be/shouldn’t be coated. You’re just getting a bit of flavor on them. Grill bread on both sides. Set aside to cool.
Dump your tomato colander contents into your serving bowl. In the tomato water bowl, add vinaigrette ingredients--vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and honey to taste.
For this we’ve given you measurements so you know how much you should have on hand to complete the dish. But you should really add bits of ingredients at a time and continually taste as you go until you get a dressing you love the flavor of. Aim for a bright sweet dressing that has a bit of salt and a mild acid tang. You want to play up the natural sweetness of the tomatoes, not overwhelm them with vinegar. Pour dressing into a handy pouring vessel.
Now tear up your bread into chunks and place into a separate serving bowl.
Chiffonade the basil and toss with the rest of your tomato salad ingredients.
When we served this, everyone fixed their own--put bread in their bowl, layered it with the tomato mix, poured a few tablespoons of vinaigrette over the top. You can mix all of the ingredients in one bowl if you like. But if you have leftovers, they don’t hold up well. Stored separately, you could eat perfect panzanella for two more days. Easy.