Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

Panzanella: Use-it-up Italian comfort food

The middle of last week, I noticed I had several ends of bread loafs languishing (but not yet moldy) in the back of the fridge, and on the countertop a bunch of overheated tomatoes threatening to spoil. What to do with this stuff to avoid (gasp!) throwing out food? Simple: panzanella.

La mise en place

Panzanella is a kind of savory bread pudding or salad, a peasant dish whose nutritional value depends on what you put in it, just as pasta dishes do. The result is not as pretty as spaghetti or some elegantly turned out pasta shape, but it sure tastes good. And it’s an easy way to use up food that might otherwise go to waste.

The basic principle: take stale Italian-style (or any other style…) bread, tear it up, toss it with chopped tomatoes, herbs, onion, and garlic, add a little vinaigrette dressing, and enjoy. If you think of the bread as sort of like pasta, you realize you can add just about anything you please. Here’s how I made this week’s version:

You need:

• stale bread (keep leftovers and heels in the fridge until you have about a loaf’s worth)
 ripe tomatoes
• herbs (ideally fresh), such as parsley, thyme, tarragon, summer savory, basil, rosemary
• water
• wine vinegar or lemon juice
• garlic
 onion (red onion or little green onions)
• olive oil
 salt & pepper to taste
• a nice bowl to fit all this stuff 

Run the bread under the kitchen tap to wet it pretty well. Let it sit for a few minutes, and then squeeze out the water over the kitchen sink. Cut the dampened bread into cubes and place in a bowl. 

Chop the tomatoes and add to the bread. Toss these around. If you’re using a sweet red onion, chop about half of it fairly finely—it doesn’t have to be minced, but unless you’re crazy about onion probably should be cut into pretty small pieces. Mince the garlic. Chop up whatever fresh herbs you have on hand, or use some dried herbs (a teaspoon to a tablespoon each, less for stronger flavored herbs). Mix all these with the bread and tomatoes. 

Now toss in a little vinaigrette. Add to the bread-veggie-herb mixture a tablespoon of wine vinegar or lemon juice and three tablespoons of olive oil. If you have a lot of bread & veggies, increase the dressing proportionately: remember, three parts oil to one part tart stuff.

Toss the whole thing well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you’re hungry, start eating. Otherwise, you can let it rest in the fridge for a while: the bread seems to like soaking up the juices and flavors.

You can add all sorts of other goodies, as desired: various veggies (chopped cauliflower? broccoli? carrots? radishes? celery? finely sliced spinach or chard?), a little anchovy, some cooked shrimp, a sprinkling of cheese. Just think of it as homely pasta and proceed accordingly.



Copyright © 2009 Funny about Money 

Author: funny

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  1. I’ve been meaning to make this for years…will do so as soon as we get some good tomatoes. I’ve also been meaning to write on dried bread cuisine–try ribollita also, which is basically a bean soup layered with dried bread. You can make it with leftover minestrone.

  2. I love panzanella, nothing like repurposing old bread! Pappa al Pomodoro is another favorite of mine and, with home grown tomatoes just around the corner, I’d better start stocking up on bread. I guess that contrary to using “old” bread but…yum!

  3. Ooh.La.La! Sounds easy, creative, thrifty, delish. I wonder if you could skip wetting the bread, so it would soak up more tomato juices, dressing, etc.? Might have to sit a few minutes longer.

    Thanks for the nifty tip!

  4. I tried it this Saturday and enjoyed it a lot. Thanks for the recipe.

  5. @ frugalscholar: Wow! The ribollita recipe looks soooo savory–and not hard to make. Just e-mailed La Maya to suggest we need to get together to cook up some of that.

    @SimplyForties: OMG! I used to make a tomato soup exactly like that! There was a place in town run by a cordon-bleu chef who decided to drop out and become a hippy in Tempe — he had an astonishing restaurant stashed in a hole in the wall. My friend Barbarella and I deduced the makings and came up with just this combination…only of course without the bread. The bread idea is very interesting — would convert it straight into comfort food. Yum!

    @ Vickey: As a matter of fact, I didn’t get quite enough water on it the other evening, and it was a little dry. Probably depends on how fresh the bread is. I’ll bet you could dampen it with tomato juice or maybe a little…hmm…beef broth? Broth & red wine? Tomato juice & red wine? It’s very forgiving — you probably can do just about anything you please and end up with a tasty dish.

    @ Dividend Tree: Glad it worked for you! Amazing, isn’t it, what tasty stuff a few leftovers will create, eh?

  6. Intriguing, I must start aging some bread to try this soon. Mm, my mouth is watering a little already.

    Actually, artisanal bread tends to be much too rock hard for my taste, this sounds like a great way to use up a loaf.

  7. This is a new one to me, but it sounds wonderful!