Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Summer Panzanella Salad

Panzanella salad is traditionally an Italian bread salad made with tomatoes, onions, stale bread chunks, basil, vinegar, and olive oil. Some recipes call for soaking the stale bread in water to soften and then the water is squeezed out, while others prefer the bread crunchy or even toasted. Cucumbers, peppers, and other herbs may also be used.

I personally like to use bread chunks that have been tossed in a little olive oil and toasted in the oven. This allows the bread chunks to soak up the dressing and become slightly chewy. Bread soaked in water first and then squeezed out leads to a soggier salad. I also like to add cucumbers and peppers. In this recipe I used Armenian cucumbers. Armenian cucumbers are long, curled, and a very light green color with shallow grooves running the length of the cucumber. They are quite crunchy with smooth, firm flesh and thin skin that does not need to be peeled. Armenian cucumbers seem to be less watery than English cucumbers, so they do not leech lots of liquid once salted in a salad. But by all means, any cucumber will do for this recipe. I also used an Italian green pepper, which is a long, slightly twisted pepper with thin flesh and a small seed pocket. It does not resemble a green bell pepper at all, but does taste slightly similar. Italian green peppers are a bit stronger and more peppery, but with no heat. They kind of taste like a jalapeno that lacks heat. Again, any kind of pepper could be used here such as red or green bell peppers, or even a jalapeno or Serrano if you like a little heat. The only thing I ask of you if you make this recipe is to use fresh herbs and a high quality cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. The quality of the olive oil is very important since the bread will be soaking it up.

Summer Panzanella Salad

-1 small shallot, minced
-1 small clove garlic, minced
-1 medium sized Armenian cucumber cut in half
and sliced thin
-1 ½ cups mixed small tomatoes, sliced in half
-1 Italian green pepper, seeds removed, sliced thin
-1 cup toasted or stale bread cubes
-2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
-2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-1-1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
-Salt and black pepper

Combine everything in a large bowl and toss to mix thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Let sit at least 15 minutes. Taste again and adjust seasoning if necessary, adding more extra virgin olive oil or balsamic vinegar if desired.

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