ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Soak up rest of summer with Sarah's Panzanella Salad

A recent sighting of hot air balloons over Lake Melissa has reaffirmed to me that it is decidedly still summer, in spite of the fact that Fargo schools will be back in session next week. And, as our son (and only child) Giovanni transitions to mi...

Italian panzanella salad is ready to enjoy.David Samson / The Forum
Italian panzanella salad is ready to enjoy.David Samson / The Forum
We are part of The Trust Project.

A recent sighting of hot air balloons over Lake Melissa has reaffirmed to me that it is decidedly still summer, in spite of the fact that Fargo schools will be back in session next week. And, as our son (and only child) Giovanni transitions to middle school on Tuesday, I need every glimmer of sunshine I can get. Thank goodness it's tomato season! Gio will turn 12 next month, and during the summer of my pregnancy I practically existed on a specialty from Sarello's called Chicken Italiano, which featured a simple breast of chicken, pounded thin for tenderness, served with a balsamic butter sauce and a traditional Italian salad called panzanella. While the chicken was very nice, the panzanella was what kept me coming back, and I would often order a double portion of the salad since I was eating for two, after all. Panzanella (pan-zah-NELL-ah) is a classic Tuscan salad made with bread and tomatoes, along with a variety of other summer vegetables. Like so many great dishes, panzanella was originally made by peasants, who saw it as a way to use very stale bread, since the juices from the tomatoes and dressing soak into the bread, making it palatable. The key to this recipe is the bread, and the crustier, the better. While you may certainly use stale bread for this recipe, we like to expedite the process by making homemade croutons from a good-quality, crusty loaf of French or Italian bread. Our favorite local source for good bread is Breadsmith on 32nd Avenue South in Fargo, and you can also find a variety of artisan breads from local bakers at various farmers markets in the area. I cut the bread into 1-inch cubes, leaving the crust on, and then toss the cubes in extra virgin olive oil and seasoning before baking.

Italian panzanella salad is ready to enjoy.David Samson / The Forum
Italian panzanella salad is ready to enjoy.David Samson / The Forum

Next, I place the bread cubes in an even layer on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees until they just start to turn golden brown, about five to 10 minutes. Oven temperatures can vary, so be sure to check the bread often as it bakes. Panzanella is a great way to showcase the abundance of beautiful fresh tomatoes from our gardens and farmers markets, and I like to use a variety of tomatoes which brings additional color and flavor to the plate. Unlike the artful arrangement of a composed salad, like the French Nicoise, Panzanella is a wonderfully rustic salad and the measurements provided in the recipe are merely guidelines. While I prefer to keep my use of bread to tomatoes fairly even, I will often eyeball the rest, adding a bit of this, a bit of that, until I'm happy with the results. I prefer my bell pepper dices to be on the medium-side, but some folks like them larger, and still others will leave them out entirely. It's all good. A simple vinaigrette of red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil is all that's needed to dress this salad, and we like to use a ratio of two parts oil to one part vinegar for this dressing. This is our basic go-to salad dressing, and we fill a squirt bottle with 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil and 1/3 cup red wine vinegar and keep it in our pantry for up to a month. Panzanella is one of my favorite late-summertime foods. It's rustic, casual and comforting, and unlike our "tweenager," it hasn't changed a bit in the past 12 years. Panzanella Salad Serves 4 to 6 Ingredients: 1 loaf or round of good, crusty artisan bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (plan to use about 4 cups) 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 teaspoon kosher salt ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 4 to 6 cups ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 3 to 4 large tomatoes) 1 medium cucumber, seeded, cut into ½-inch thick "half moon" slices (about 2 cups) ½ cup each, diced into ½-inch pieces: • red bell pepper • yellow bell pepper • orange bell pepper Half a medium-sized red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced ¼ cup fresh basil, torn into pieces ¼ cup red wine vinaigrette (see below) Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste Directions: Slice the bread into 1-inch cubes, leaving the crust on. In a large bowl, toss the cubes with extra virgin olive oil until coated, then sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper while gently tossing to ensure even distribution. Place bread cubes on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes, until just lightly golden brown. Check often to prevent over-browning. When done, remove from oven and set aside. Using the same large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, onion and basil; add the toasted bread cubes to the top and coat with red wine vinaigrette. Use a large spoon or rubber spatula to gently toss the ingredients together. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. Serve immediately, or let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes for better flavor. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 2 days. To make the vinaigrette: Use 2 parts extra virgin olive oil to 1 part red wine vinegar. For a single use, combine 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil with 1½ tablespoons red wine vinegar, until emulsified. (We make a large batch in a squirt bottle with 2/3 cup olive oil and 1/3 cup red wine vinegar, which we store in our pantry for up to one month. Simply shake well and drizzle over salad whenever desired.) Sarah's tips: • Panzanella is best with crusty, artisan loaves of bread and is a great use for stale bread. • This is a rustic recipe, so measurements are just a guideline. • For more flavor variations, add a ½ cup of the following: roughly cut, cooked bacon; good black or green olives, pitted and halved; and/or capers. “Home With the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 11-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com. All previous recipes can be found at http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com.  

Related Topics: RECIPESFOOD
What to read next
The parade was Saturday night, Dec. 3, in downtown Moorhead and Fargo
'This is a real heartfelt Santa," actor says of 'Miracle on 34th Street role.
Laugh and sing along with these fun weekend activities.
“There are no words to describe our sadness at the passing of Christine McVie,” Fleetwood Mac said in a statement. “She was truly one-of-a-kind, special and talented beyond measure."