Panzanella (Italian Bread Salad)

I love that other countries have all these interesting ways to use up old, stale food. One of my favorite things to do with stale bread is to make panzanella. Today, a trip to the farmers market, yielded some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes. Well, they weren’t really gorgeous, they were kind of gnarly and deformed looking. But all of that ugliness promised of beauty within. When I brought the tomatoes home and set them on the counter, they ended up right next to a half loaf of french bread that I had made earlier in the week. It was fate. I’m sorry I’m getting kind of melodramatic and poetic, but heirloom tomatoes do that to me.

Recipes for panzanella can be found all over the place. It really is hardly a recipe, but for guidance (since I don’t trust myself), I turned to Mark Bittman’s
How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food.

(adapated from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)

4 medium perfectly ripe tomatoes, cored and peeled (we didn’t peel them)
about 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, peeled
8 thick slices bread, preferably a couple of days old)
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, marjoram, or thyme leaves or 1/4 cup minced fresh basil or parsely leaves (we used oregano)
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic or other good vinegar, or to taste
fresh ground black pepper

1. Remove the center and seeds from the tomatoes. Place the tomatoes in a strainer over a bowl, sprinkle with about 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and set aside.

2. Toast the bread (he recommends a broiler, but we used a toaster oven). Tear into bite sized pieces. Place them in the bowl with the juice extracted from the tomatoes.

3. Discard the tomato seeds and chop the meat of the tomatoes into smaller pieces. When the bread has softened a bit, add the tomatoes, herb, oil, vinegar and some black pepper.

This was so good. It really allows the flavor of the tomatoes to shine. Next year I would really like to grow some heirloom tomatoes. Do you think I could grow them in pots? I’m growing some hot peppers in pots this year and they are really doing well.

The bread salad was served with pork medallions, browned and finished with a lemon and white wine sauce. The flavors really complemented the bread salad. This was such a refreshing dinner, perfect for this miserably hot day!

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