My all time favorite summer recipe: panzanella. This Tuscan bread salad is so simple yet delicious, and I’ve kicked off the summer by using this recipe for the PHS Orchestra summer picnic. While this salad can have many variations (it commonly includes anchovies, for example), I learned the traditional Florentine version from an Italian mother. The key to this recipe is using the right fresh ingredients to play around with their ratios. The ingredients are (in order of quantity used):
- Tomatoes, chopped
- Hard bread, shredded (ideally white Sourdough-type bread that is 1-2 days old, but fresh Tuscan bread from Whole Foods will also do the trick)
- Cucumber, chopped
- Onion, chopped
- Basil, chopped
- Olive oil
- ½ to 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- Balsamic Vinaigrette
- Salt and pepper
The ratio for these ingredients generally follows equal parts tomato and bread, slightly less cucumber and onion, and a handful of chopped basil. Prepare the ingredients in the following order:
Cut up the tomato, cucumber, and onion in small slices and add to salad bowl. To avoid sogginess of the bread, drain excess juices from the tomatoes prior to adding to the salad bowl.
Tip: to take the bite away from the onion, first prepare the onion by peeling and cutting it in half, and then soaking in a bowl of cold water in the freezer for 10 minutes.
Drizzle the mix with olive oil, making sure to toss. Be generous with the olive oil and top with a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette. Add salt, a little bit of pepper, and white vinegar and toss again.
In a separate smaller bowl, tear apart several slices of white bread into smaller pieces.
Pour cold water over the bread and let it sit for about a minute, depending on how hard/old the bread is. Then drain the water. This process should leave the bread soft, spongy, and absorbent, but not completely mushy, so use your hands to squeeze out as much water as possible from the bread.
Drizzle the bread with olive oil, salt, and a good amount of white vinegar (about a teaspoon, depending on taste). Add a little bit of balsamic vinaigrette and mix with a spoon to distribute evenly.
Add the marinated bread to the cucumber, tomato, and onion and stir.
Chop and bruise basil so as to release its aromatic oils, then add a handful to the salad.
Stir together. Panzanella tastes best if left to marinate for a couple of hours or overnight.