One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.

-Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, "Pavarotti, My Own Story"

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Panzanella: Italian Bread Salad

In Turkey, bread is a way of life. It is eaten at every meal and is so important in our culture that our way of saying "earning a living" translates as "earning bread". Since bread is filling and cheap, families stretch food further by cooking saucy dishes and using bread to sop up the sauce from the plate. I like to do the same with the pool of salad dressing left at the bottom of the bowl. There isn't much that is better than some bread dripping with tangy vinegar and fragrant olive oil and this Italian recipe takes that concept even further. When confronted with a hunk of bread going stale in my kitchen, I always turn to this. The stale bread is mixed with tomatoes and a dressing and soaks up all the delicious juices, but doesn't go mushy the way the fresh stuff would. 

As with a lot of Italian food, the recipe is simple but it relies on having high quality ingredients. Buy good quality French or Italian bread and don't use tasteless supermarket tomatoes. Try to get some from a farmer's market instead.  


I hate the texture of tomato skins in salad so I always peel them. It's not too difficult - after coring the tomato, start at the top and peel off the skin using the flat side of a knife. Non-traditional but delicious add-ins include corn, avocado, hot pepper or toasted pine nuts. If you like garlic (and who doesn't?), you can rub a halved clove against the bread slices after toasting. Serves 4 as a side dish or appetizer. 

4 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 slices of stale bread
3-4 leaves fresh basil, cut into thin strips (optional)
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1) Mix the tomatoes with the basil, oil and vinegar in a bowl and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Let stand for a few minutes so that the salt draws out some liquid from the tomatoes.

2) Toast the bread and tear it into bite-sized pieces.

3) Toss the bread with the tomatoes and let stand for a few minutes so that the bread absorbs some of the dressing and tomato juices.

1 comment:

  1. Even easier way to peel tomatoes. Cut an x in the bottom and throw them in some boiling water for about 10 seconds, then into an ice bath. The skin will come right off.