Early in our relationship, TD and I established the sanctity of Sunday Supper. I don’t recall us ever doing this with intention. I suspect it was the product of a cross-town relationship (code for we rarely saw each other during the week) and really good Sunday night television (Sex and the City, The Sopranos etc.). Twelves years later and Monday dinner may be a scrounged peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but Sunday supper is always special. It’s never elaborate and cooking with fire is usually involved.
One of our favorite Sunday Supper dishes has kind of evolved into being over the years. The ingredients change depending on the season and what happens to look good a the market. Sometimes it leans toward the Italian pursuasion. Others more Greek. And still others it just does its own thing. It’s an easygoing dish with little in the way of rule following. We call it panzanella-ish.
Every culture seems to have its way of economizing resources and utilizing leftover starch products in interesting ways. Panzanella is Tuscany’s.
Let’s start with the tomatoes. In the heat of summer when it seems like the markets are giving away tomatoes, I like to use beautifully colored heirlooms. During the off-season, I stick to smaller varieties like grape, cupid or cherry because they pack a little more punch in the way of flavor than the larger, anemic, hothouse varieties. For panzanella, you want some juice (I don’t seed), but not a ton. To get to the optimum tomato juice ratio, I cut the tomatoes into bit-sized chunks, set them in a strainer and salt them. Then, I let them sit for about 20 minutes, gently tossing the strainer every five minutes or so to release the juices. While they are resting, I usually melt in a clove or so of garlic like with my pico recipe.
Oh wait, if you are patient, there is a step before the tomatoes. My bad.
If you remember to, pour between 1/4 and 1/2 cup of extra-virgin olive oil in a bowl. To it, add on large, smashed clove of garlic and desired seasoning (fresh herbs etc). Let steep for a couple of hours. This the oil you’ll use to toast your bread cubes.
Back on track. While the tomatoes are sweating it out, I cut up my sort-of stale bread. I usually don’t go whole-hog-Thanksgiving-stuffing-stale for panzanellaish. It’s a personal preference, but we like a little give in the bread.
Also a personal preference, I like to toast the bread on the stove-top. We aren’t making croutons here and for whatever reason, I tend to forget the bread when I attempt to toast it in the oven. So, in goes the garlic oil, then the cubes. Toss to coat and let toast on a couple of sides.
See what I mean?
No matter the persuasion, we always use cucumbers. Sometimes persian (as I’ve done here), sometimes English, sometimes normal. Seed them if you want. We don’t.
This salad needs a little bite to it. Diced shallot or red onion will do the trick. Just a little kick.
Herbs are also important. Remember the Strawberry Shortcake dolls that smelled like their namesakes? Well, if it was the 80s and I was a strawberry shortcake doll, I’d be Basil Bottechelli. Mint is lovely too or whatever your favorite combo might be. When fresh herbs aren’t in season, we toss in some Herbs de Provence (our household’s version of Windex. Have an issue? Throw on some Herbs de Provence).
Okay, it’s time to man-up and buy a good hunk of parmesan reggiano. I’m talking aged at least 18 months (though 24 is better). It’ll be tough to throw-down upwards of $25 a pound the first time. But, it will last much longer than you’d expect (even if you are prone to breaking-off hunks with your fork and eating it straight-out as TD and I have become) And bonus? The rind is an excellent addition to a soup or tomato sauce recipe. It’ll change your life. I swear. Feta, goat or buffalo mozzarella (think caprese inspired) are genuis in this salad as well.
We microplane. You could shave with a veggie peeler or grate. Up to you.
Finish off the salad with some acid, really nice cold-pressed olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. My favorite acid for this is fresh lemon juice.
Toss everything together and then give it about 15 minutes for the bread to soften just a tad. Pair it with a protein and beautiful wine and, no matter where you happen to be for reals, you’ll swear you’re in Tuscany.
TMH’s Endless Summer playlist. Beach boys, 2 Wicky, Norah Jones, Karmin, Frank Sinatra, Grouplove, Foster the People, The Black Keys…to name a few.
Misanthropic Hostess Panzanellaish
In lieu of an actual recipe, I submit this diagram for consideration. Mix and match as desired, adjust ingredient volume to number of people you are feeding (and then, double to be safe, there will never, ever be leftovers).
You should be able to click on the image for full-page display.