Bread, Basil, Battlestar Galactica.
Psst! Some shortcuts just for you...
September 22, 2020
Say it ain’t so -- it’s the last day of summer! Head to the garden (or produce section) and pick those summery vegetables, pluck that day-old loaf of bread off the counter, and get ready to compose a beautiful panzanella. With a little osmosis magic you’ll obtain tomato juice for the vinaigrette that will spread the tomato-flavor-love to every bite.
What are we celebrating today, September 22? Many things. The 26th anniversary of the television premiere of Friends. The 19th year of the Dead Sea Scrolls being available to the public. Opera singer Andrea Bocelli’s 62nd birthday. And last but not least, the last day of summer.
So before making the transition into fall, gather the remaining rays from the summer sun, and funnel that energy into putting together this delectable panzanella. At its core, panzanella is an Italian salad of onion, tomato, and bread. Mix in some basil and cucumber, whisk together a simple vinaigrette, top the whole thing with some feta and fresh black pepper, and you’re ready to properly say, “ciao, until next year” to summer.
Not only does the vinaigrette for this salad have oil and vinegar, it also includes the juice from the tomatoes. The secret to pulling the juice from the tomatoes is salt. Simply sprinkle the cut tomatoes with salt, place them in a colander, and kerplunk! Osmosis magic! The salt draws the liquid from the tomatoes, the liquid drops into the bowl below, and the tomatoes remain nice and cozy in the colander. Adding this juice to the dressing helps permeate the flavor of tomato throughout the salad.
The bread you use should not be fresh from the bakery. Many panzanella recipes suggest a convenient method for “aging” fresh bread that includes drying out the bread in the oven. I have not tried this method before, but take a moment to look into it if it’s something that interests you. And let me know how it goes if you do it! Normally I buy a small bread boule and let it sit out on the counter for a day or two. The goal is to have bread hard enough that it will stay together after soaking up the dressing, and soft enough that it will actually soak up the dressing.
When slicing the onions, the thinner the better. It’s much easier to make thick slices of onion, but you don’t want the onion flavor to completely dominate. You want it to play well with everything else on the plate. For this reason, go thin. Present, but not overpowering. I suggest soaking the onions in cold water. This tempers the strength of the flavor of the raw onions. If raw onions rock your world and you want to taste every ounce of power they offer, skip the water soak.
The only green leaf in this salad is basil. If you still have some after making last week’s Braised Pork Chops with Peach and Basil recipe (shameless self-promotion), you win! One less ingredient you have to put in your shopping cart. Once you do have all the ingredients, have some fun layering and plating the salad before serving. You, yes you, are a creative, culinary craftsperson.
(click each step as you go to keep track of your progress)
Finished and want to make it again?
- Prep time: 15min
- Cook time: 25min
- Serving size: 2
- 2 large tomatoes
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 250 g (8 oz) crusty loaf of day-old bread
- 1/2 red onion, sliced very thin
- 1/2 cucumber, sliced and lightly salted
- 60 mL (1/4 cup) olive oil
- 30 mL (2 Tbsp) red wine vinegar
- 6 g (1/4 cup) fresh basil leaves
- 50 g (2 oz) feta cheese, crumbled
- 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Cut tomatoes into about eight 2.5 cm (1 in) pieces. Place in a colander and set the colander over a bowl to catch the juice. Add 1/2 tsp salt and a drizzle of olive oil to the tomatoes and let sit for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, soak the onion slices in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes. Then drain.
Pour the olive oil and red wine vinegar over the tomatoes and let drain for another 5 minutes.
Chop the bread loaf into 2.5 cm (1 in) cubes and place in a large bowl. Pour the strained tomato-oil-vinegar liquid over the bread and stir to evenly combine. Let sit for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to evenly distribute the dressing.
To assemble the salad, divide the bread onto plates. Top with cucumber slices, onion slices, tomatoes, and basil leaves. Sprinkle each plate with feta, a pinch of coarse sea salt, and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper.
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