A Polish Girl’s Panzanella
There used to be a little company operated by two sisters who sold Italian food products. They had a dressing packet for Tomato Basil Vinaigrette. I ordered it by the box and developed my own version of a Tuscan Bread Salad that used plenty of lettuce and bread. They closed their business, and last year I was sad to not be able to make my salad as before. But this Summer, I refused to miss my inauthentic panzanella any longer, and I developed a mimic that uses fresh ingredients for the dressing. Mangiammo!
Ingredients you need:
- 1 medium-sized fresh, ripe tomato from a real plant (not the pale, mealy things at the store)
- 4-8 leafy stems of fresh basil (if they are short, you’ll want to use up to 8, but follow your taste)
- black pepper
- ½ tsp. garlic powder
- ¼ tsp. onion powder
- 1-2 tsp. sugar
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1/3-1/4 loaf of stale (pretty darn dry) Italian bread (half of a French baguette also works)
- 1/2 head of Romaine (or mild, green leaf lettuce)
- 8 oz block of mozzarella (the kind you can grate)
- pine nuts, toasted and cooled (pricey and worth it)
Devices you need:
- blender or immersion/hand-blender
- a tomato corer is helpful but this is totally do-able without
Serve the salad in a huge bowl with the mozzarella grated on top and pine nuts sprinkled over. If dairy or nut allergic, other topping options are black olives, halved cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion.
Slice the stale bread, then cut into cubes the size of large croutons. Set them aside in a large bowl or – even better – in a large container that has a sealable lid. (If bread is still a tiny bit moist, you’ll be ok. If it is still soft bread, leave the cubes in a bowl and cover with a tea towel for a day so they can dry more before using.)
Core the tomato (cutting out the spot where it attached to the vine) and squeeze the pulpy-seedy tomato guts into the garbage disposal, or save them to grow next year, or put them into your compost bin, or enjoy tomato seed ‘caviar’ as its own thing.
Cut tomato into rough chunks and use blender to puree it with the vinegars. This should yield about 1 cup liquid. Add the seasonings, sugar (start with just one teaspoon, the amount needed to cut the acid depends on your tomato) and basil leaves. Blend again until even consistency. Adjust salt, pepper, and more sugar to your taste.
Whisk thoroughly the tomato mixture with the olive oil, then immediately pour over the bread cubes. Toss them to coat evenly, or put the lid onto the container and shake it gently. You want each cube to uniformly absorb dressing. Set aside.
Rinse the lettuce well and spin or gently pat dry. Tear into bite-sized pieces. Put lettuce into your large salad serving bowl.
Fold the dressed cubes and lettuce to combine. If there is a bit of unabsorbed dressing leftover, fold it into the salad. You can eat immediately or chill it in the refrigerator for an hour before serving. Top with grated mozzarella and pine nuts or to your preference.
If cooking for one or two people, dressed cubes can be stored covered in the fridge for a day. Add fresh lettuce when ready for a next meal.