An Italian (well--Tuscan, really) dish I quickly learned to love during my hot summers there is panzanella. It makes use of stale bread and staples of Italian cooking: olive oil, tomatoes and fresh basil. Purists contend that the only other ingredients should be a dash of red wine vinegar, some onions, and salt. I personally also like to add fresh mozzarella. Add a bit of grilled meat or vegetables to your table, and of course some wine, and you have an easy summer meal. If you want, you can pretend you’re sitting beneath a tree in the late afternoon, gazing at golden hillsides and olive groves.
Here is how I make it.
Time: ~25 minutes | Servings: 4-6
- Stale bread - 2 demi baguettes or 1 paesano loaf of ciabatta bread (I get mine at Trader Joes, Whole Foods, or the numerous artisan bakeries here in Cincy when I’m in the States). The bread should be pretty darn hard when you use it, probably around 1 week old.
- Grape tomatoes - ½ pound to 1 pound (depending on how much you heart tomatoes. I heart them. I heart them hard.)
- ¼ c of olive oil, or more to taste
- 6-8 large fresh basil leaves, cut in a chiffonade
- 1 small onion, sliced thin or medium diced (depending on how much onion you like to have in your mouth at one time)
- Dash of red wine vinegar (go easy on this - the tomatoes already add a good amount of acidity)
- Salt, to taste
Optional: fresh mozzarella ciliegine (or you can also use one large ball and cut into chunks)
For me, the simpler the better, but some people also like to add: cucumbers, olives, capers, tuna, anchovies...whatever strikes your fancy
- Cut your bread into large chunks, 4-6 pieces total.
- Prep your tomatoes by halving them, and cut up your onion. Chiffonade your basil.
- Put everything en place.
- In a clean sink or large bowl, soak the bread in water until the bread is softened but still firm enough to actually chew it - similar to pasta al dente. I start with around 10 minutes and then check every few minutes. What’s important is that the bread doesn’t turn to mush.
- When your bread is ready, squeeze the water out like you would with a sponge.
- Break the bread into bite-sized chunks and toss into large serving bowl.
- Add the tomatoes, onions and basil, and toss to combine.
- Drizzle with olive oil, add salt to taste, and a dash of vinegar. Toss gently again to combine.
- You can either add the mozzarella at this point, or nestle the ciliegine into each individual serving (you know, so that one person doesn’t end up with 10 and everyone else gets 1).
Eat. Enjoy. Repeat.