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.
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:
• 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
• wine vinegar or lemon juice
• 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.
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