Tonight, my favorite ‘Living Single’ group met to talk about summer foods. I was asked to ‘officiate’, the capacity being ‘Chef du jour’ at one of their bi-monthly meetings. My gracious brother offering to host for the group, opened his patio to all of us. The weather was perfect, the conversation lively – the setting could not have been better!
The menu included a simple garlic and herb infused olive oil with bread for dipping, and fresh fruit for appetizers. The entree course was a grilled flat iron steak, sliced thinly and served with bleu cheese, fresh tomatoes, red onions and lettuce on a soft baguette. On the side, a panzanella and a tuna pasta salad. Dessert featured my signature chocolate cake with warm ganache and a red, white and blueberry trifle.
We discussed the beauty of the Panzanella. Leave it to the frugal Italians to come up with such a colorful and delicious use for stale bread! Panzanella is the perfect picnic food because it can be prepared in stages and travels well. Prepping the vegetables the day before you need the salad, and leaving the addition of the bread and dressing to an hour or so prior to eating works into almost any schedule: tailgating, picnicing, or just a lazy dinner on the deck.
Ask 100 Italian cooks their recipe for Panzanella, and you’ll get 100 different takes on the ‘perfect combination’. Here’s the recipe that we prepared tonight:
2 loaves day old baguette or Italian loaf, cut into bite sized pieces and dried slightly
1 cup pimento stuffed olives, chopped
1 can small ripe olives, drained
1/4 cup minced red onion
2 medium cucumbers, diced
1-2 garden fresh tomatoes, diced
1/2 – 3/4 cup balsamic vinaigrette (Cook With Mary brand, of course)
salt and pepper
a handful of fresh basil leaves, torn roughly
Mix together the olives, cucumbers, onion, tomatoes and vinaigrette. Salt and pepper as desired. Toss to blend the flavors. Add the bread cubes and toss well. Add the basil, toss again. Allow to rest 30 minutes to an hour.
My fear with this salad was that the bread would be soggy. But toasting it slightly leaves enough crunch in the ending dish, much like really good croutons on a salad. Pine nuts, pepperoncini or Italian meats and cheeses would also be great additions.