Since my recent post about Spring and farmer's markets, I've found myself having strong cravings for some of the foods that truly showcase the lush ripe bounty that they offer. Maybe it's because certain areas of the Northeast have been hit with a foot or more of snow in the last couple of days and as hard as it is for me to even type the letters on my keyboard, more arrived this morning. To go along with this very unwelcome white
When I think classic Italian salad or "Insalata", my thoughts go immediately to two of my favorites; Panzanella and Caprese. For this post, I'm going to share my recipe for Panzanella. Now, as is the case with most classic regional foods, there is an ongoing debate over just where the idea for this "stale bread" and vegetable delight originated. Tuscany, Florence, Piedmont and several other regions of Italy have all claimed ownership and just like most any other traditional dish from a particular country or region, there are dozens and dozens of methods of preparation, and the ingredients can vary from just slightly, to almost completely different. My recipe is more of a combination of a few recipes that I've seen and some of my own ideas that best suit my family's tastes.
- 1 Lg loaf Tuscan, Peasant or Ciabatta Bread, cut into bite sized cubes (removing crust is optional)
- 4 Tbls Virgin Olive Oil (light to medium color and taste) for frying bread
- 1 Lg European Cucumber, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes (approx)
- 3-4 Roma (Plum) Tomatoes, juice and seeds removed, cut in same size as cucumbers
- 1 Lg Red Onion, peeled and cut in half then sliced, approx 1/4 inch thick
- 1/2 Cup Gaeta or Kalamata Olives, pitted and sliced in half or thirds, depending on size
- 2 Tbls Capers, drained, rinsed and roughly chopped
- 5 to 6 Fresh Basil Leaves, torn roughly
- Kosher Salt and Fresh Ground Black Pepper, to taste
- 1 Cup Medium or Light Olive Oil
- 6 Tbls Red Wine Vinegar (White Balsamic Vinegar is also quite good)
- 1 Tsp Superfine Sugar
- 1/2 Tsp Kosher Salt
- Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
Heat 4 Tbls Olive Oil in large skillet until the end of a wooden spoon inserted into the pan, sizzles and tiny bubbles come from it. (trust me... it works) Season the bread cubes with a little bit of salt and pepper and toss them into the hot oil in a single layer. Turn them frequently with tongs or a spatula, until they're golden brown and crispy on all sides. Remove with slotted spoon onto paper towels, to soak up any excess oil. Sprinkle with a little more salt and set them aside.
In a medium to large salad or serving bowl, combine the Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Onion, Olives and Capers and gently tear the Basil leaves into small pieces. Add Salt and Pepper. Toss well with salad tongs, a spoon or your very clean hands to mix thoroughly. At this point you can cover it and refrigerate it if you aren't going to serve it right away.
Combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together until well combined. You can also do this in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake it well, or in a blender or food processor. Whatever is most convenient for you will work.
Just before serving, add dressing and toss to coat the vegetables. Add the croutons and serve immediately. This makes a great first course or side dish with all types of meat and seafood. It also makes a light and really satisfying supper on a hot summer night. Buon Appetito!