Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Basket of Tomatoes From the Garden (Panzanella Salad)

"The Yellow Brandywine are winning the tomato contest this year," James declared, "and they are much more handsome, remember last summer they were all 'gnommy' and truly ugly."
A basket holds the contents of our lunch and beyond as the tomatoes are ripening at a rapid pace now. The perfectly shaped tomatoes are fit for slicing to create that essential summer treat, the tomato sandwich where two slices of good bread, a touch of mayo and a slice of tomato are all that is required for mid-day eating bliss.

The next day,when the bread is stale, take the perfectly ripe tomatoes, add cucumber, red onion
garlic and a dressing of olive oil and vinegar and there it is, panzanella salad.

My first taste of panzanella salad was in Italy and came by way of Aldo and Daniella Gallo in Panicale.
It was our second visit to Panicale and we were once again renting an apartment from Aldo and Daniella, the beloved owners of Bar Gallo.
We had just arrived in Italy the day before but fell right into it's rhythm. That evening as James and I were just beginning to cook dinner, after an extended sit on the small balcony overlooking the Umbrian landscape with the swallows graceful overhead and sipping an apertivio the buzzer rang. The buzzer, who could that be?
It was Aldo. Aldo with a bowl of Daniella's panzanella salad. How nice was that... and you wonder why we love this small town so much..... this is exactly why. In that bowl was a blend of all the simple elements in perfect harmony forever to be remembered.
Mille grazie!

Since that first taste of panzanella I was captive and have ordered it many times in trattorie in Italy. Making the salad my challenge is to find that balance of flavor and texture in Daniella's salad. The bread in Umbria and Tuscany does not have salt, so that creates a unique flavor, but here in New Hampshire, I find a good rustic bread to use from a small artisanal baker that works well. The only time to make this salad is when ripe tomatoes are available. It will not be the same with those icky, pale supermarket types...don't bother! Good olive oil is also a must.

The recipe requires the best ingredients, the amounts are variable depending on personal taste, size of tomatoes, etc. Everything is more or less to taste.

Panzanella Salad

Day old rustic bread, torn into pieces
2-3 ripe tomatoes, cored and seeded, chopped
cucumber, peeled and seeded, chopped
1/2 red onion diced
1-2 cloves garlic minced
parsley , finely minced
basil, leaves torn for garnish
salt and pepper

red wine vinegar ( about 3 tbs.)
good olive oil ( about 1/3 cup)

Make the vinaigrette.
Place the torn bread into bowl, sprinkle and toss with a little water to soften
the day old bread, set aside. Put the chopped tomatoes in a bowl, add about half the minced garlic, drizzle with a little olive oil, toss and set aside for about ten minutes.
Prepare the remaining ingredients.( If there is any excess liquid in tomatoes spoon it into a small bowl for possible addition to salad later if needed). Add the bread to the tomatoes, add onions, cucumbers, parsley, salt & pepper, toss ingredients and slowly drizzle in the vinaigrette using as much as necessary. Remember, this is all about balance of flavor and texture! Put into an attractive serving bowl and garnish with fresh basil.

The salad is perfect lunch or primi for dinner. How can anyone resist with all these juicy ripe tomatoes hanging around!

The work is not done yet. There are more tomatoes, San Marzanos to be cooked down into sauce and put away for winter dining and cherry tomatoes to be roasted. And then our daughter's favorite, tomato bisque to be made to be served with grilled cheese sandwiches.
Our kitchen is perfumed with cooking tomatoes. Nice!

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