Welcome to my world!

I've developed a passion for cooking since childhood, but in the past six years, that passion has grown into a geeky obsession. I love cooking, baking, and most importantly, sharing the love of food with family and friends. I invite you along on my journey of food discovery and passion.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Perfect Panzanella

Living in Florida, light and healthy fare seems the most appetizing after a long day or week at work. Looking through my Cook's Illustrated one day and came across a recipe for Panzanella. What, exactly, is that? Panzanella is a bread salad traditionally made with leftover bread and summer tomatoes.

Well, if you are frugal or plain old cheap, it's the perfect way to use up day old French or sourdough bread when you cannot think of what to do. If you happen to be blessed with a bounty of summer tomatoes, then you have THE most critical ingredient to the dish. If you have both of those items plus some produce you need to use up, you, my friend, have hit the jackpot.

The secret to great Panzanella, according to CI, is toasting the bread, not just letting it go stale. Other recipes call for soaking the bread in water first. Personally, water soaked bread is a mushy goo, so I prefer the thought of toasting the bread until crouton-like. Aside from that, a simple technique of using the juices from the tomatoes (minus seeds) plus an acid and olive oil gives a great and well-flavored dressing.

Here is how to make my version of perfect summer Panzanella, both vegan or meat-loving:

Clear-the-veggie-drawer Panzanella

4 cups French bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/2 lb. Ripe summer tomatoes
Chopped veggies of choice, up to 2 cups*
4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper
2 Tbsp fresh basil (or 1/2 tsp dried)
2 Tbsp fresh parsley
OPTIONAL additions - cubed fresh mozzarella and/or cubed salami or ham

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut up French bread and place on baking sheet. Drizzle bread with 2 Tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss cubes to distribute olive oil. Bake in oven for approximately 3 - 7 minutes or until toasted (not too dark). Remove from oven and cool.

Meanwhile, core tomatoes and remove seeds (squeezing out seeds is easiest). Chop tomatoes coarsely and place in colander. Sprinkle tomatoes with salt and place colander over bowl to capture juices. Let sit 10 minutes. Chop other vegetables into chunks and place in bowl. I suggest peeled and seeded cucumbers, chopped bell peppers, green onions, some olives and the tomatoes.

Once tomatoes have sat 10 minutes, squeeze them over the colander to release the juices, then add tomatoes to the other vegetables. Combine the tomato juices and red wine vinegar, garlic powder, and then whisk in the oil, adding up to 3 Tbsp. Season with salt and pepper.add the bread into the vegetables and pour over dressing. Add in Basil and parsley, if desired Mix to combine. Let stand 10 minutes. Just before serving, add in cheese and meat if desired.

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