Got tomatoes? Panzanella, the Tuscan bread salad, provides another way to enjoy tomato season. The recipe also calls for croutons or day-old bread, and in the days when they considered wasting bread a mortal sin, this addition could save a soul. I love Panzanella because of its simple and brilliant use of the tomato and its natural juice. In many recipes, we can substitute canned tomatoes for fresh, but for Panzanella, the fresh tomatoes must be used. Dice, douse in sea salt to pull out the liquid and place in a sieve or colander to collect the resulting juice which becomes part of the vinaigrette. Like I said, brilliant.
According to Marcella Hazan, Italian cooking guru and cookbook author, the Panzanella salad “orignially the poor man’s dinner in parts of Tuscany and Rome. . . two-or three-day-old bread is soaked in water, squeezed, and added to the salad in amounts proportional to one’s hunger.” For this more modern version, the bread soaks up the complex flavors of the dressing. Be sure to have some good Italian bread on hand for this version.
Having just gone to the farmers market, I came home with a couple pounds of purple potatoes and some firm, out-of-this-world paste tomatoes (any meaty tomato will do). I thought instantly, Italian potato salad! Of the Insalata di Patate, Potato Salad, Elizabeth David, author of the classic, Italian Food, writes, “The Italians often add capers and anchovies, which make a welcome change, but the mixture becomes monotonous if used too often.” Interesting advice!
This recipe marries the two salads that make a perfect summer supper.
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Panzanella Meets Italian Potato Salad
- 3-4 medium meaty tomatoes, diced
- 4 medium potatoes, Yukon, fingerling, new, or red or a combo
- 1 small cucumber, diced
- ¼ cup olives, green or black or a combo
- 2-3 slices day-old bread, or 1 cup croutons
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 tbsp. red or white wine vinegar
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. capers
- juice from tomatoes (see directions)
- 3 sprigs fresh herbs such as oregano, basil, thyme, or combo, chopped
- 3 – 4 tbsp. olive oil
- salt to taste
- lots of fresh Italian parsley for garnish
Make your own croutons
- Preheat oven to 400 ° F. Tear day-old bread into small chunks and place in a baking dish. Using 1 tbsp. of olive oil, coat the bread thoroughly. Add salt to taste and roast in the oven for 10 minutes until brown and crunchy. Toss halfway through cooking.
- Meanwhile, wash, core, and dice tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt, place in a colander over a bowl to collect juice from tomatoes. Set aside for 15 minutes to let juice work its way out of the tomatoes and collect in the bowl. This juice will be added to the vinaigrette.
- Cut potatoes into 1-inch cubes, skin on. Add to a pot of salted boiling water and cook for about 6-7 minutes until firm and not mushy. Test with the tines of a fork to make sure the potatoes don't overcook. Drain, season with a bit of salt, and set aside to cool.
- Mix vinegar, shallot, tomato juices, garlic, herbs, capers in a small bowl and whisk. Add in the olive oil 1 tbsp. at a time and taste as you go until desired flavor is achieved. Add salt as needed.
Construct the salad
- To a large serving bowl, add potatoes, diced tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and croutons. Pour on the vinaigrette and stir to coat. Garnish with chopped Italian parsley and serve chilled or at room temp.
Figs are in season! Try another later summer salad made with Figs and Goat Cheese.