Every home bread baker will always have days when they bake more than they could eat.
Well, freezing is an option.
But what if you’re not in the mood to freeze your baked goods? Surely you’d feel guilty for throwing those wonderfully made bread. You can dice them, season them, and turn them into beautiful croutons for your soups and salads. You can also grate them, dry them, season them, and make homemade bread crumbs that you can use to coat your choice of protein, or sprinkle on top of a bed of creamy mac’n’cheese. So many options, so many delicious ideas to turn days old bread into something special. But here’s my favorite, Panzanella.
"Panzanella...Summer salad of central Italy consisting of tomatoes, cucumber, onion, basil, vinegar, and olive oil. Also pan molle (soft bread) and panbagnato (soaked bread). From the Latin panis (bread)."
---Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink, John Mariani [Broadway Books:New York] 1997 (p. 178)
The first time I tried Panzanella, I was absolutely not impressed. The vinaigrette was too much it turned the bread into a mush and the tomatoes were not ripe enough. Under ripe tomatoes are best for making sambal, methinks. So I did not care about Panzanella for a long, long time. That is, until I start baking my own bread. With the abundance of bread I have at home, I have to have perfect Panzanella. Two key ingredients in making perfect Panzanella are very ripe tomatoes and bread with open crumbs that would gladly soak the lovely vinaigrette.
There are many ways to make Panzanella. Some of the Florentine traditionalists actually just soak the bread in water and add some very ripe tomatoes, salt, and olive oil. They disapprove additional ingredients such as olives, mozzarella, white wine, capers, celery, red wine, red onion, cucumber, bell, anchovies, peppers, lemon juice, and garlic. But hey, with all due respect to the Fiorentino, I beg to differ. So let’s jump on my not mushy, simple, vegan, unbelievably delicious Panzanella band wagon!
Adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Parties!
2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 red or white onion, thinly sliced
A handful of basil leaves, coarsely chopped
3-5 black olives, drained and thinly sliced
1 tbs capers, drained and shred to pieces
French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (4-5 cups)
a pinch of salt
2-3 tbs vegetable oil, for pan frying
For the vinaigrette:
1 finely minced garlic
1 tsp Dijon mustard
3 tbs red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and ground black pepper to taste
For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together.
Important note: DO NOT put too much salt in your vinaigrette!
Once the vinaigrette is poured on the salad and mixed well with the other ingredients, you will have additional saltiness from the capers and the olives.
For the bread, you can cut the crust if it is already too hard. Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread and a pinch of salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed. You are doing this to prevent the bread from turning into an unappetizing mush.
In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, onion, basil, olives, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to marry.
Stale bread+ripe tomatoes+vinaigrette= MANNA.
I use my sourdough bread here and if you happen to have sourdough bread at your disposal, all the better. It will take your Panzanella to the next level. If you want to add cucumber, fine. It will provide an extra crunch. Just make sure you take the seeds out first , otherwise it would make the bread too soggy and that's something you wanna avoid.
If you have never had Panzanella before, then I advise you to intentionally leave your bread to stale. Don't you dare touch it. Get some of the ripest tomatoes possible and by God! Make yourself some Panzanella and get lost in all its glory.