It’s hard not to want to photograph everything that the kitchen garden offers right now: glossy purple eggplant, red, orange and yellow peppers, purple onions, and perhaps most photogenic of all, tomatoes. I brought in an especially stunning basketful of tomatoes the other day: deep red Cherokee Carbon and Cherokee Purple, softer red Momotaro and Mortgage Lifter, yellow Hillbillies with their dramatic red creases, and Darby Red and Yellows, small red-orange orbs dashed with yellow. In the left corner of this red and yellow still life there are two peppers in the same tones: an orange Etudia and a red Carmen.
What better way to taste the sweet flavors and show off the warm colors of ripe tomatoes than panzanella? I wrote about this Tuscan bread salad last August and included my favorite recipe for it then, but I want to remind tomato lovers of panzanella again this year and to offer another recipe. You can never have too many variations on this salad. This one comes from Melissa Clark and features fresh mozzarella and cucumbers in addition to tomatoes and bread. My friend Dena served this delicious version of panzanella last week for dinner and shared the equally tasty leftovers on a picnic the next day. For my latest version, I substituted thinly sliced fennel and those red and orange peppers in the basket because I didn’t have any cucumbers. They provided the same crunch cucumbers would plus the spicy sweetness of peppers and the sweet anise flavor of fennel.
Until the tomatoes run out, I’ll be making more variations on this perfect summer salad.
Panzanella With Mozzarella and Herbs Melissa Clark
At the height of tomato season, for every perfectly ripe, taut and juicy specimen, there’s an overripe, oozing counterpart not far away. The Tuscan bread salad called panzanella is the perfect place to use those sad, soft tomatoes that are still rich in flavor. Traditional panzanella is made with stale, dried bread that’s rehydrated from a dressing of sweet tomato juices, vinegar and plenty of olive oil. This version also includes some mozzarella for richness and cucumber for crunch. It’s an ideal make-ahead dish; the longer the mixture sits (up to 6 or so hours), the better it tastes. Just make sure your bread thoroughly dries out in the oven so it won’t turn to mush.
- 4 ounces ciabatta or baguette, preferably stale, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 3
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more to taste
- ¾ teaspoon kosher sea salt, more to taste
- 2 pounds very ripe tomatoes, preferably a mix of varieties and colors
- 6 ounces fresh mozzarella, torn or cut into bite-size pieces
- ½ cup thinly sliced red onion, about half a small onion
- 2 garlic cloves, grated to a paste
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, more to taste
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oreganoor thyme (or a combination)
- Large pinch red pepper flakes(optional)
- ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
- Black pepper, to taste
- ½ cup thinly sliced Persian or Kirby cucumber, about 1 small cucumber
- ½ cup torn basil leaves
- ¼ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon capers, drained
- Heat oven to 425 degrees. Spread the bread cubes on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with 2 tablespoons oil and a pinch of salt. Bake until they are dried out and pale golden brown at the edges, about 7 to 15 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.
- Cut tomatoes into bite-size pieces and transfer to a large bowl. Add mozzarella, onions, garlic paste, 1 tablespoon vinegar, oregano or thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt and the red pepper flakes if using. Toss to coat and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, combine remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar, the mustard, 1/4 teaspoon salt and some black pepper to taste. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil until the mixture is thickened. Stir in cucumbers, basil and parsley.
- Add bread cubes, cucumber mixture and capers to the tomatoes and toss well. Let sit for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours before serving. Toss with a little more olive oil, vinegar and salt if needed just before serving.
From my August 27, 2017 post:
The panzanella recipe I use as my starting point comes from Orcas Island chef Christina Orchid who published it in the Islands Weekly years ago. Here’s the recipe from her website http://redrabbitfarm.com/classes/:
Panzanella: Italian style bread salad.
1 loaf hearty artisanal style French or Italian bread cut into 1 inch cubes.
1/2 cup grated Reggiano parmesan cheese or grana panda
2 pints garden ripe cherry tomatoes cut in half
1 cup basil, chopped
1 small red onion cut in thin slices and quartered
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup superior quality red wine vinegar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
On a large sheet pan toss the bread cubes with enough olive oil to thoroughly moisten all, then toss with the grated cheese, and toast bread cubes in a 440 degree oven for 5 minutes or until crispy and golden. Reserve. Cut the tomatoes in half from the stem end and toss with the onions and red wine vinegar. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve. Just before service toss the bread cubes together with the tomato mixture and the chopped basil. Drizzle with Olive Oil and toss until all is moistened. Garnish with a drizzle of the balsamic vinegar. Serves 8.
If you follow her recipe exactly, this panzanella provides a transporting mix of textures and flavors. Over the years, though, variations have crept into the panzanella I make. The biggest change currently is that instead of white flour French or Italian bread, I use either seeded whole wheat bread or whole wheat walnut levain, breads I make from the Della Fattoria Bread cookbook http://dellafattoria.com. I love the way the wheat, seed and walnut flavors meld with the sweetly acid tomato flavors.
The recipe technique of thoroughly moistening the bread cubes with olive oil then tossing them with grated Parmesan and toasting at high heat works wonderfully with this more hearty bread. For tomatoes, I often use juicy full-sized tomatoes like Cherokee Carbon or Cherokee Purple in addition to cherry tomatoes. The extra juice in these larger tomatoes soaks into the toasted bread cubes, softening them but not making them mushy. Sometimes I omit the red onion and use chives or instead of onion use a little chopped garlic but I always use basil. And because high summer tomato flavors are so complex and wonderful on their own, I often omit the red wine vinegar and the balsamic and rely instead on tomato juices for the acid. Despite these many variations that have evolved over the years, I still think of this panzanella as Christina’s and am grateful to her for sharing it. It’s a perfect way to celebrate the peak tomatoes of summer.