Monday, August 8, 2011

Panzanella: Bread Salad

As you can guess, I am not a ravenous veggie eater.  Just take a look at the few recipes I've posted thus far and you'll quickly see that my preferred foods of choice consist of various combinations of sugar and fat.  I'll frequently bulldoze through the main course of dinner just to reach the sweet payoff at the end...dessert.  I've even been known to eat a thick slice of cake or a fat wedge of pie in place of breakfast.  It's wrong on so many levels, but damn, it tastes so right.  It's not all bad, I wash it down with a big glass of milk to keep these middle aged bones in good working order.  That's healthy, right?  Hell, who are we kidding, hook me up to a glazed donut I.V. and I'd happily live out the rest of my days (daze, lol!) with a goofy sugar coma perma grin on my face.  

Yes, sugar is my friend and nothing comes between this unholy union until Summer rolls around.  Believe it or not, when warm weather hits I actually start to crave the leafy brightness of the Summer salad.  They come in all shapes and sizes and consist of a myriad of fresh, seasonable ingredients.  Add delicious accouterment such as earthy nuts, salty cheeses, and a crusty piece of bread and you have a verdant meal fit for angels.        

Summer salads are undeniably delicious.  They take the brightest and freshest gifts of the season and come together to create a powerhouse of flavors and textures for the mouth ala Mother Nature.  Yep, I'm all about the Summer salad this time of year.  During my daily food porn fix courtesy of Food Network and the Cooking Channel, I've noticed a flood of recipes for something called Panzanella, or bread salad.  In short, it looks like a variation on the Summer salad with a twist...the addition of pan toasted cubes of stale bread tossed in olive oil,  not so much treated as a crouton added on top, but rather a crusty layer of texture tossed directly into the salad used to soak up some of the fresh juices given off by the tomatoes and cukes that form the base of this meal, and also the olive oil and vinegar that dress the salad.  Sure, it's not the type of salad that is going to sit well in the fridge overnight, but it's so good and so simple that there will probably not be any leftovers anyway.  The platter in the pics below, was easily devoured by Kirk and I, with only a handful of veggies left for lunch the next day.  We carefully ate all of the bread out of the salad so the potential for soggy bread bits was averted.  Kirk grilled up some boneless, skinless chicken breasts to round out this plate and we a enjoyed a lite, satisfying meal on the patio, the best place to partake of a Summer salad.

I also added a bell pepper that showed up too late for this shoot.  Such a diva!

Toss 3 smashed garlic cloves into the olive oil to cash in that garlic flavor without adding minced garlic to the pan.  When the bread is toasty and ready to come out, pick the smashed garlic cloves out and discard.

I found these gorgeous heirloom tomatoes at our local Trader Joe's.  Beautiful and delicious.  Almost too pretty to eat...I said almost ;D

Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds from the cucumber.  This will prevent the salad from being weighted down with additional liquid from the seeds.  

All nice and clean, like two lush green veggie canoes.

A little red onion for a hint of sweet and heat.

Mmmm...golden, toasty bread shows up and now you have a party.  

Toss all the guests of honor together.  Mingle, mingle...!

A light dusting of parmesan shards is the only accessory needed to get this salad ready for her patio debut. 

Ah, grilled chicken arrives and now we have a meal.  
Panzanella aka Bread Salad

3 cups cubed stale bread
3 cloves of garlic lightly smashed
3 cups of cherry, grape, or miniature heirloom tomatoes, halved
1 english cucumber, sliced with seeds removed
1 bell pepper (red, green, or yellow), cut into large dices
Red onion sliced
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
shredded parmeson for garnish
salt and pepper to taste

Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a skillet over medium low heat, toss in the smashed garlic cloves.  Once oil is hot, toss cubed bread into pan and coat thoroughly with the olive oil.  Continue toasting bread cubes until crispy and deep golden brown (approximately 10 minutes).  Remove from heat and discard galic cloves.  In a large bowl combine tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper and red onion.  Drizzle with remaining olive oil and vinegar.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add cubed bread, toss all ingredients together. and serve immediately.