The perfect summer salad with fresh ingredients from the garden, this Panzanella (Tomato and Bread) Salad will soon be a favorite of yours too!
Fate must have played a strong hand in this month’s Recipe Swap; a group event where we are given an assignment that consists of an old recipe from a vintage cookbook; we’re currently working out of a book called The Ford Treasury and this recipe is from the Hotel Dilworth which the recipe itself indicates is located in a noted vacation area in Michigan. I recall very fondly two trips that I took to the Petoskey, MI area so I did a search and lo and behold I found that the almost 100 year old historic building is in that area and is currently undergoing a renovation and expected to re-open this year! Small world indeed.
The recipe we are given is simply an inspiration and our challenge is to put our own spin on this treasure. It’s always great fun to not only devise our own dish but to see the creativity that comes from our members each and every month. After my homage to excess last month with a fabulous pound cake filled with blood orange curd and a mascarpone frosting, something lighter was certainly on the agenda this time around.
When I saw this tomato pudding with tomatoes, bread and butter I could almost taste Panzanella salad, an Italian salad using the simplest of foods that come together in an equally simple but fantastic salad. I was so sure of my choice that I put little thought into it and simply scheduled the time and date for the post and inserted the recipe for my use when I was ready to pull it together.
But a small and incessant niggling started in my head that I could eventually not ignore. This was not tomato season and tomatoes are the star of this dish. Fresh, warm from the summer sun tomatoes. Tomatoes so full of juice and flavor that taking the time to cut them seems to just prolong an ecstasy that any true tomato lover knows. The beauty of the tomato stance even; bending at the waist, arms and torso outstretched so that the ground becomes your plate and you casually ignore that feeling of tomato juice running down your chin, even your forearms. This is tomato nirvana and it is those tomatoes that this salad is made for. So I decided to punt and make something else. Or so I thought.
You know how once you get something in your head sometimes there is simply no letting go? I tried, I really did but this I could not let go. So my challenge became to find the best tomatoes I possibly could, to rely on some fabulous croutons and a great dressing to stand on their own and if I’m honest to plead with you to make this salad but not until this summer. I can not wait to do it again…right after I clean the dribble off of my chin from that ‘first’ tomato! Still, as if on cue my semi weekly box of organic fruits and veggies from Door to Door Organics appeared magically on my doorstep. Red, ripe organic tomatoes and a head of fresh lettuce and I was rescued and ready to stay on task.
Panzanella is a Florentine salad of bread and tomatoes popular in the summer. It includes stale bread that is soaked in a dressing and tomatoes, often accompanied with onions and basil which is dressed with olive oil and/or vinegar. Florentine traditionalists disapprove of using other ingredients but I’m not in Florence so I like to serve mine with some lettuce, garlic, mustard and Parmesan cheese.
There is nothing difficult about this salad but some things are important to me to insure it’s the best it can be. I always drain the tomatoes and then use some of the tomato water in the dressing. Then I dress the tomatoes first and give the flavors some time to meld together before adding the bread cubes. I’ll let that mixture sit for just a couple of minutes; I want the bread dressed but not soggy…and so do you, I promise. Piling that mixture on top of fresh greens and then finishing with some freshly grated Parmesan is the making for an almost perfect salad. Later this summer. Promise me you will do it then; I know I will!
Panzanella (Tomato and Bread) Salad for April Recipe Swap
The best use for stale bread and fresh tomatoes ever!
For the Croutons
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 6 cups cubed day-old bread (1/2-inch cubes)
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan
For the Salad
- 2 pounds ripe heirloom tomatoes, diced
- 1/4 cup minced red onion
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp tomato water
- 2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil leaves
- 1 tsp mustard, preferably whole grain (I LOVE Maiille mustard)
- 1 tsp sea salt
- Black pepper to taste
- 2 cups mixed greens, torn
- Parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and cook until it foams.
- Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- Add the bread cubes and toss to coat with the butter.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Transfer the bread to a baking sheet; sprinkle with the cheese and toss again while warm to melt the cheese.
- Bake, stirring once or twice, until the croutons are crisp and lightly colored on the outside but still soft within, about 8 or 9 minutes. Let cool. Store in an airtight container.
- Drain the tomatoes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients; save the tomato water to use in the dressing.
- In a bowl, combine the onion, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Add tomatoes and basil and stir gently. Let stand for 5 minutes.
- Add the croutons and toss well.
- Mound lettuce in a large bowl or on a plate. Top with a generous amount of the bread/tomato mixture.
- Shave Parmesan over the salad and serve immediately.