Panzanella

by Anh-Minh on July 25, 2014

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Sure, Fridays are usually pretty awesome because they signal the end of the work week. But even better? The Fridays when Melina Hammer shares a recipe with us! I can’t wait to try out her Panzanella. — Anh-Minh

Summertime ushers in fantastic produce we all love, like the bounty of bright and juicy tomatoes. I stopped buying tomatoes when they are not in season years ago, after I tasted the fabulous in-season versions grown by local farmers. The supermarket impersonators, no doubt trucked from a gazillion miles away, just can’t compete. When these wonderful and versatile fruits are in season, I gorge on them, filling my market basket to overflowing. My favorite tomatoes are the heirloom varieties—prized for their intense flavor, color, and juicy texture.

It is especially appropriate, given the hot and lazy days, that this month’s recipe is (almost) another no-cook treat, just like last month’s trio of summer salads. I say treat because, I feel indulgent when eating Panzanella—even though its origins were a means to save old bread from waste. Gotta love the Mediterranean sensibility! Yes, there is a good amount of olive oil and I do like to fry the bread in my version, but really, it sings the virtues of tomatoes in all their glory, and the framing accent of bright basil and chive blossoms (or shallots, or shaved red onion, or other allium) is alive with freshness. Use good bread and good olive oil, along with those good tomatoes. You’ll be wowed by the results.

After drizzling the torn bread all over to soak in the olive oil, I skillet-fry it in additional oil. To me, the crunchy, almost-charred exterior, paired with the juicy oil-soaked interior offers an unexpected delight when digging in. Keep the Panzanella in its respective ingredient clusters for dramatic presentation, or toss it all together in a pile and let your guests feast on the results.

Panzanella

Serves 2-4

  • 1 smallish loaf good crusty bread, torn into bite-sized chunks and left to sit for a day or two
  • 5 large heirloom tomatoes such as Green Zebras, Cherokee Purples, Yellow Pineapples, or Brandywines, cut into wedges
  • 1-2 cups Sungold tomatoes, cut into halves
  • 3-5 chive blossoms, individual blossoms picked apart (you can use shallots cut into wedges and slowly sautéed until soft and translucent, or thinly shaved red onion, as a substitute)
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, rinsed and patted dry
  • good extra virgin olive oil for soaking, drizzling, and frying
  • red wine vinegar
  • flake sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Lay the bread out on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Over medium-high heat in a cast-iron skillet, add another glug of olive oil, and using tongs to turn the bread, brown it on all sides. Lower the heat to medium halfway through so as not to burn any pieces and re-drizzle oil if you see the pan smoking. It’s fine if some of the pieces become charred, but these parts should be more an accent than the norm.

As you finish browning, empty the pan of even the crumbs—those crunchy bits will be great in the mix—onto whatever serving platter you have chosen. If you’re arranging the ingredients in piles, do so with the basil, all the tomatoes, and the bread, and then scatter the chive blossoms (or allium of your choice) around. Mix together a 2:1 ratio of olive oil and red wine vinegar, whisk together to emulsify, and taste. Adjust ratio to your taste, then spoon dressing over all (save some for table side). Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and dig in. You just made an edible work of art.

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{ Recipe and photos by Melina Hammer }

 

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