Monday, October 6, 2014

Panzanella Tomato Bread Salad

How does one boast the positive attributes of a salad consisting of moist bread soaked in the juices of tomatoes? By not using the words "moist" and "bread" together in the same sentence, perhaps? Maybe a better question is how does one photograph said salad and make it look appetizing? Well, I did my best. I can assure you it isn't typically the visual appeal that gets a person to take the panzanella plunge. I must confess that it took me 28 long years to even try the stuff myself. Call me crazy, but wet bread has never really struck my fancy. 

I don't really know what finally prompted me to give panzanella a shot. I'm sure the stars must have aligned and I just so happened to have a loaf of stale bread, overripe tomatoes and the summer issue of Bon Appetit with panzanella on the cover. Whatever the case, I am SO glad I got over the wet bread thing and got my hands dirty (literally!) to try this recipe out.  

It's not exactly a quick or easy recipe but it's so worth it and makes a wonderful special occasion dish too. Though panzanella is considered a "salad," I have a hard time preparing both a salad that is this labor intensive AND a main dish at the same meal. So when panzanella is on the menu, I usually just serve it with some salami, cheese and wine alongside and call it a night. Use the ripest tomatoes you can (overripe is better) and this is a great recipe for that loaf of bread that you didn't get around to using right away (am I the only one that does this?) I recommend using ciabatta as it holds together well and doesn't completely disintegrate in the tomato juice and olive oil. I love for there to be a few bready chunks left intact when it's all said and done.

Because I spent the last 8 years of my life with an electric stove, I always charred the peppers for this recipe by putting them under the broiler. Now that I am living with my in-laws, I was able to play with fire a bit and char them by setting them on the metal grate directly over the flame of the gas burner. Fun times!

The last thing I will say about this recipe is that I know ingredients like Kalamata olives, capers and anchovies tends to scare away some of the less adventurous of us eaters. But I cannot imagine this recipe tasting nearly as exciting without them! They add just the perfect salty, savory Italian zing that makes this dish worth telling you about. So, go big or go home! If you're going to eat a dish starring wet bread, might as well throw in some olives, capers and anchovies too. ;)

Panzanella (Tomato Bread Salad)
(adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine)

2 pounds tomatoes 
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling 
3 tablespoons (or more) red wine vinegar 
4 garlic cloves, minced 
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 
1 loaf stale bread (such as country or ciabatta), cut into 1 inch-thick slices 
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper   
2 jalapeño peppers 
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted   
1/4 cup capers, rinsed, patted dry, coarsely chopped 
4 anchovy fillets, rinsed, patted dry, finely chopped
1 large bunch basil, leaves trimmed, stems discarded 
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Using the tip of a paring knife, make two 1" cuts on the bottom of each tomato, forming an X. Add tomatoes to water and cook just until skin begins to peel back at each X, 40-50 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer tomatoes to a large bowl of ice water; let cool. Peel tomatoes and place in another large bowl. Using your hands, crush tomatoes, breaking up any large pieces and releasing juices.
Stir in 1/2 cup oil, 3 Tbsp. vinegar, and garlic. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and more vinegar, if desired. Add bread to tomato mixture in bowl. Toss until bread is well coated and starts to absorb liquid. Let sit for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, char bell peppers and jalapeño peppers, directly over a gas flame or in the broiler until blackened all over. Transfer to a resealable plastic bag. Close bag and let sit for 15 minutes. Remove peppers; peel, core, seed, and cut into 1/4" strips.
Add peppers, olives, capers, and anchovies to bread mixture. Massage with your hands until all ingredients are thoroughly combined and bread is broken down (it will break down differently depending on what kind is used; ciabatta tends to stay more intact). Add basil and season with pepper.
Cover salad and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour. Drizzle with oil just before serving.
Serves 6-8

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posted by kelsie