Friday, August 20, 2010

Panzanella Salad

I had another post all planned for today, I did, but then, last night I stopped at the Farmers Market in Dewey Square and bought the most BEAUTIFUL  Heirloom tomatoes from Kimball Farm.  I'll repeat it- the MOST BEAUTIFUL HEIRLOOM TOMATOES.  Every variety was gorgeous, and I couldn't resist.  I selected two of each different type, a few mini cucumbers, and a big bunch of basil (helllooo pesto!) and scurried off with my treasures (yes I paid before scurrying).

I know, Heirloom Tomatoes seem to be everywhere lately.  Every menu seems to list them, they are in grocery stores, and they seem to be on the tip of every one's tongue.  But what IS an Heirloom Tomato?  I did a little research, and it appears that "Heirloom" basically refers to the idea that these tomatoes are the product of "open pollination", meaning that their flowers are pollinated by any number of birds, insects etc, anything in nature really, rather than being a built hybrid.  If I am understanding this correctly what we see in these tomatoes is really a product of nature, rather than man. 

Ever since last week at the lunch I attended at Sibling Rivalry, I have been wanting to make my own Panzanella Salad.  The texture and flavor combination is just so delightful that I really wanted to give it a go.  Yesterday, a fellow Boston blogger, Megan from Travel, Wine, and Dine, posted that she had also made a Panzanella Salad.  It sealed the deal for me- it was time to make it at home.  

I headed to the gym with my purchases to get in a good work out, and let me just tell you- I think I perfumed the entire locker room with the scent of tomatoes and basil.  Normally it smells very soothing already with lots of eucalyptus, and last night I added the makings of Italian Summer to that.  I don't know about my fellow patrons but man- I was in love!

When I finally reached home, I got straight to work and I made the dressing for my salad first.  I combined a shake of crushed red pepper flakes, a little salt, pepper, garlic powder, roughly torn basil leaves, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, and extra virgin olive oil in a plastic container, and then pureed this mix with my immersion blender.  When I found a good paste like consistency, I added a tablespoon, or so, of white wine vinegar and the same of olive oil.  I blended this together, and continued to taste and add more of the oil and the vinegar until the dressing reached the desired taste and consistency.  My end result was still rather thick, but had a wonderful flavor of delicious basil, a little salt from the cheese, a slight kick from the pepper flakes and a hint of garlic.  It smelled like summer back at home with my mothers homegrown tomato and basil caprese salads.

With the dressing complete, I turned my attention to those tomatoes.  I simply sliced them into thick slices, and then cut those into fourths.  I added one of the small cucumbers thinly sliced to the same bowl with my prized tomatoes, and then chopped up about three quarters of a small red onion, and about two slices of mozzarella cheese, and added them as well.  I sprinkled in a bit of salt and pepper, and then tossed it all with my delicious dressing.

Now, one of the best parts of Panzanella Salad is the lovely crusty bread that is added to it and soaks up all the juices from the tomatoes and the dressing.  As I thought about making this, I knew I had a loaf of bread sitting on my counter.  I assumed it was probably stale.  I learned, again, not to assume.  Of course the one time I'm hoping for stale bread this stuff is nice and fully edible.  Not to worry though-I sliced off two slices and popped them into an oven at 300 degrees for just a few minutes, turning them mid way through.  They dried out nicely and I was able to toss them into my salad.

Oh my goodness!  Those tomatoes- they were incredible!!  Sweet, and fresh, and just brimming with perfect flavors of soil and nature.  Every taste reassured you that this really is the way food is supposed to taste-utterly pure and clean.  Tossed with the dressing, and with the crunchy bits of bread- the salad was bliss-in every sense of the word.

Word to the wise with this salad- be sure that you add the bread just a few moments before serving- otherwise it has time to soak up too much of the juices and becomes pretty soggy.  While we're in these days of summer though, and the tomatoes couldn't be more perfect, you have to try this salad.  Easy, light and perfect.   

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