Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Panzanella (tomato-bread salad)

I was a little skeptical about this recipe for panzanella, a traditional Italian recipe and excellent use for stale bread--not because I didn't think it would delicious, but because I assumed my reaction would be "Yawn, another tomato salad."

Well, hold the presses, because this is definitely the most awesome tomato salad I've ever put in my mouth.

My only regret was that I didn't have more bread.

This is essentially a tomato salad with lots of stale bread, and an anchovy-mint dressing. Don't let the anchovy part throw you--anchovies don't taste like fish, they taste like umami (that strange, savory fifth flavor). It gives the dish a depth and kind of dark saltiness that perfectly offsets the sweetness of the tomatoes. Without being fishy.

Reprinted from The Kitchn:

1 pound cherry tomatoes

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
4-6 ounces day-old peasant bread, torn into bite-size pieces
1 cucumber, peeled, seeds scooped out, and diced
1/2 small red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons drained capers
small handful fresh mint (15-20 leaves) picked and sliced into thin ribbons, divided

For the dressing:
2 anchovy fillets
1 clove garlic
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup good-quality olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

Slice the tomatoes in halves or quarters, going for manageable bite-size pieces. Place them in a colander set over a bowl and sprinkle the tomatoes with the salt. Set aside to drain for about 15 minutes (place a plate or bowl below to catch some of the juice).

In a large salad bowl, place the drained tomatoes (reserving 2 tablespoons of the juice), bread hunks, chopped cucumber, red onion, capers, and about half of the sliced mint.

In a mortar and pestle, combine the anchovies, garlic, half of the remaining mint and a small pinch of salt. Pound it aggressively to make a paste.

Add the olive oil and vinegar to the reserved 2 tablespoons of tomato juice. Drop in the anchovy paste and whisk until emulsified. Alternatively, shake it all up in a jar. Taste for seasoning; it may need more salt or a few cracks of pepper.

Pour the dressing over the salad and gently toss. I like to use my hands to toss a panzanella to feel the juices start penetrating the bread. Allow the salad to rest at room temperature for at least 1 hour before serving to allow the bread to soak in the juices.

Notes: I used a red pepper instead of cucumber; a shallot instead of red onion; and anchovy paste instead of two anchovy fillets. Also, my salted tomatoes did not produce any juice. So I just skipped that step. And make sure your bread is actually stale (as in, hard), otherwise the bread will soak up all the dressing and the tomatoes won't get any.

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