Saturday, July 25, 2015

How Panzanella Solved My Bread Problem

I have a bread problem. Not that many people would feel much sympathy for my situation. You see, my husband has become a bread maven. He might even be tiptoeing along the edge of evangelism, such is his passion for his newfound calling. At least twice people have shown up at our doorstep to be shown "the way"—actually Chad Robertson of Tartine Bread's way—of producing perfect artisan loaves in a home oven.

How could this be a problem?

Now, in his defense, I have to say I've been encouraging this discipleship every step of the way. The guy has a definite touch with flour, water and salt, and when you throw in a natural tendency toward tinkering plus a creative bent, that's pretty much the definition of a baker. So every two weeks for quite awhile now he's been making six loaves of sourdough, interrupted only by a trip out of town or summer temperatures soaring into the 90s.

Our five-year-old nephew spent the night last week, and his first question before being taken to daycare the next morning was, "Does Uncle Dave have any bread I can take with me?" He was comforted only by the promise that yes, indeed, Uncle Dave would bake bread for him in a couple of days. Oh, the obligations!

A perfect (and delicious) solution.

So the problem comes when one of those loaves is brought to the bread board. Being artisan-style loaves, when sliced there's always the rounded bit at the end that ends up, if it's not eaten immediately, sitting on the board and getting stale. Big deal, you say. But multiply that over dozens and dozens of loaves and you've got quite a pile of bits.

I've been chopping them up into cubes, drying them completely and then freezing them in bags, but I just don't make that many croutons for salads. And I utterly refuse to toss them out—there's nothing worse than wasted bread karma, believe me.

Then the other day, needing to make a salad for dinner and having some ripe, heirloom tomatoes on hand, I hit on the perfect solution: panzanella! I don't think of it often, since it needs tomatoes that only come at this time of year, perfectly ripe, not-too-hard, not-too-soft and terrifically flavorful. And I wasn't sure the rock-hard cubes would absorb enough of the juices to soften up to just the right consistency.

But I threw it together anyway, chopping up a little cucumber and some basil from my neighbor who couldn't use all that was in her CSA share. And you know, those dried crusty bread ends turned into luscious tomato juice bombs and solved my bread problem, at least for the duration of tomato season. What could I say but hallelujah!

Panzanella, Italian-Style Tomato-Bread Salad

For the dressing:
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
2/3 c. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed through a garlic press or minced fine
1 tsp. salt

For the salad:
4 c. bread, 2 or 3 days old, cut into 1/2” cubes
4-6 c. tomatoes, chopped in 1/2” cubes
1/2 c. basil, sliced into chiffonade
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded, cut into 1/4” cubes
1/2 c. kalamata olives, pitted and chopped (optional)
Salt to taste

In medium mixing bowl whisk dressing ingredients together. Set aside.

Put salad ingredients in a large salad bowl. Pour dressing over the top and combine thoroughly. Allow to stand 20-30 minutes before serving (an hour if the bread is very dry), mixing occasionally to distribute the juices.


Elisha said...

We love panzanella. Sometimes we throw in a can of drained and rinsed cannellini or some cubed mozzarella for protein and call it a meal. One time when I didn't have any fresh basil, I added finely chopped fresh rosemary instead, which was also surprisingly good.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Thanks, Elisha…great ideas!