Thursday, March 10, 2011

Classic Tuscan? Insalata Panzanella


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 hell stuff, the temperatures at night are dropping back down into the single digits as well.  I don't know how much more of this I can take! (but, I digress - on to the good stuff!)

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.

Insalata Panzanella
  • 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
**  The traditional version uses 3 to 4 day old stale bread, cubed and soaked in water for 20 - 30 minutes and then gently squeezed in your hands, until all the water is out.  I prefer to make homemade croutons and toss them in just before serving the pre-dressed salad.

The Dressing
  • 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 
The Croutons

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.

The Salad

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!

5 comments:

  1. Well hi there Mrs B! I am sooo glad that you let me know where you were now hanging out - and what a fabulous place you have here!

    Am loving the retro logos and the whole design is wonderful.

    Will be updating my links and visiting more often :-)

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  2. I am excited about this recipe! This will be the first time to make crutons, I've only used the packaged ones.
    I have decided to give up candy and red meat for Lent, will have 39 more days until I can make your brisket. I do not know what we are doing for Easter but if I am cooking...Brisket will be on the menu.
    I hope you are having a good week.....hopefully, it will quit snowing. We are having beautiful weather, today it was 71!
    Wishing you warmer weather and sunny skies,
    Shawn

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  3. I love panzanella! It really is a great summer dish. I like it served with grilled chicken. I will be making it very soon. Thanks for the reminder.

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  4. Panzanella is one of my favorite dishes and now you've made me drool for summer. My recipe is similar to yours, minus the croutons. I don't drown the bread though, just sprinkle it with a little water. I've never heard of Gaeta olives. I use Kalamata because that is what I can procure easily. I'll have to check them out.

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  5. Cate: Thanks so much! I've always liked posting about food and sharing the recipes that I love. I'm glad to be back in the saddle, so to speak.

    Shawn: I think once you've made the homemade croutons, you'll be spoiled and won't want to go back to the boxed. Bless your heart for sticking to your Lenten sacrifices. I've pretty much given up on giving up anything! LOL It never works because I don't have the necessary will power. If you make the Brisket for Easter, you'll have to let me know how you like it!

    Sue: I make it with grilled chicken and steaks in the summer as well. I'm definitely looking forward to that again!

    Liza: I'm drooling for summer right along with you! LOL I've tried the soaked bread, but I felt it got too soggy. Maybe I'll give it a shot just sprinkling the water on. Gaeta olives are just an Italian black olive, either dry cured (wrinkly) or brined. Very similar to Kalamata olives. I like the brined because they're well... more "juicy".

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