In which it is really summer…

panzanella

Well, that’s what I get for procrastinating. That is a Landon Donovan t-shirt. That was taken Tuesday night, when he was my hero. Now Landon, no offense, but it just reminds me of a crushing disappointment. Don’t worry. It’s not your fault. You are not a defender, one of the men who repeatedly forget their purpose in the first half of games and extra time, even if the World Cup hopes of a nation depend on it. I’ll get over it if you guys get a new defensive side. Fair trade, I think.

So now I’ll just talk about the panzanella. This is a food blog, after all.

Panzanella is a great summer salad, because it showcases tomatoes, can be modified pretty much anyway you’d like and can serve as a side, or a light meal. The basics are tomatoes and bread, but other than that, the world is your oyster. I did a fairly straightforward version with bread, tomatoes, mozz and basil. I added olives and quick cooked some red onions, and dressed it with olive oil and sherry vinegar. You could add cucumbers, shrimp, roasted vegetables, various cheeses, really, whatever floats your boat.

I like to use toasted croutons rather than stale bread. It gives it a bit more texture and flavor. I have the ability to add garlic without using raw garlic right in the salad, which can be a bit much. Same with onions. I start with about 4 cups of bread cubes. I prefer crusty bread like ciabatta. I heat a fair amount of olive oil in my cast iron pan, and add garlic and let it start to brown and flavor the oil.

creating flavor

When the onion starts to brown and get fragrant, I add the bread cubes, and let them start to brown and soak up the oil. Right before the bread is finished crisping and browning, I add a splash more olive oil, and some red onion.

building flavor.

I let the onions just start to sweat and soften, and the bread finish cooking, and then I took them off the heat and added the rest of the ingredients. In this case, fresh mozzarella from the farmers’ market, ripe tomatoes (if you hold out until August they’ll be even better-or slow roast them, that would also be awesome) pitted kalamata olives, fresh basil and dress it with the olive oil and vinegar of your choice. Hit it with some salt and pepper and you are in business. This requires almost no effort other than a bit of chopping and crouton watching. No muss, no fuss and limited need for heat, which is always nice in the summer. This is best eaten fairly quickly, as you want the bread to absorb the flavors and juices, but not get soggy. The croutons do help mitigate the sogginess which is nice. I ate the leftovers the next day for lunch and they were still great, even with the soggier bread.

Panzanella (serves 4 as a side, 2+ as a meal)

1/4 cup plus 3 tbl olive oil, divided

3-4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled, left in large pieces

4 cups bread cubes from crusty bread

Scant 1 cup sliced red onion

6-8 oz fresh mozzarella, cubed

1 lb of the best tomatoes you can get, in a large dice (if using cherry or grape tomatoes, halve them)

1/4 lb (1/3 – 1/2 cup – or to taste) pitted black kalamata olives

Chiffonade of 8-10 large leaves of Basil

2 tbl sherry vinegar, or to taste

salt and pepper to taste

Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large (preferably cast iron) frying pan over medium heat. Prepare bowl (wooden works great if you have one) for serving by rubbing the inside with a clove of the cut garlic, and set aside. Add all the garlic to the oil and let it cook, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until the garlic is browned and the oil is fragrant. Add the bread cubes and cook, turning the cubes for equal browning, until they are toasty and browned. Remove the garlic as it starts to blacken and burn. As the bread finishes toasting, and has absorbed all the oil, add another tablespoon of oil and the red onion, tossing to soften the onion until it just begins to sweat. Make sure all the garlic has been removed, and transfer the croutons and the just cooked onion to the serving bowl. I like to immediately add the cubed mozzarella so the heat from the bread softens it a bit. Then add the tomatoes, olives and basil and toss to combine flavors. Add just enough olive oil to so the salad isn’t dry, about 2 tbls. It won’t need much because of the oil used to toast the bread and onions. Add the sherry vinegar and toss again to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste, let it sit and meld while you set the table and pour a glass of wine, and then enjoy!

summer perfection

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