My Perfect Panzanella
Updated: Aug 31
It’s almost time for my favorite summertime salad made with vine ripened tomatoes fresh from the garden but because my tomatoes are not quite ripe nor quite as good, I'm using these amazing tomatoes from my local CSA farm. I’ve been waiting for those firm, smooth, vibrant fruits of the vine all year and now their brief time has come. Cold weather and refrigeration will kill their flavor and create a mealy texture so now is the time to use them to their greatest potential and for me that is in the making of panzanella, a Tuscan bread and tomato salad. Mine is patterned after a perfect panzanella eaten at the table of Tenuta di Capezzana, near the village of Carmignano, northwest of Florence. The scent, aroma and flavor of their highly acclaimed estate bottled extra virgin olive oil elevated the simpliest of ingredients into a work of food art. Simple but sublime panzanella is Italy’s “everyman's” summertime salad as much enjoyed in the castles of Chianti, as by Italian contadini in the fields. You can make a meal of this Tuscan bread salad or use it as a side dish. Either way it is a traditional taste of Italy.
Here is a recipe inspired by my visits to Capezzana. The recipe looks simple but don't underestimate it. Be deliberate with each step and the outcome will be extraordinary. When a dish is this elemental it needs the right ingredients. The right oil, the right vinegar, the right tomatoes and the right bread. Do not use American bread for this recipe. It is not a substitute for the firm, artisan quality Tuscan bread needed to make this recipe so good.
Ingredients - for several servings 10 oz loaf of day old Italian country style bread, 1/2 cup of fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces 3 large ripe tomatoes cut into cubes with their juice 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar; more or less to taste 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil sea salt to taste a few cloves of fresh minced garlic
I like to add the sea salt when mincing the garlic because the abrasive quality of the coarse salt helps to smooth out the garlic and they just combine together so well.
Cut the bread into bite size cubes. Warm 2-3 T extra olive oil in a large, heavy skillet that provides for even heat. Add minced garlic to perfume the oil being careful not to let the garlic brown. Toss bread cubes in the oil, transfer to a baking sheet and finish in a 375 degree oven for a few minutes until bread al dente (firm yet soft), about 5 minutes. Let cool and transfer to a serving bowl and toss with tomatoes making sure to use all the juice the tomatoes yield. Dissolve salt to taste with the vinegar and oil in a small bowl if you have not already added it to the minced garlic. Mix well and drizzle it over the bread mixture. Add the basil and toss. Most Italian cooks recommend leaving the panzanella sit for a while before eating to allow all the flavors to come together but I can't wait for that!