PANZANELLA: It’s Fresh Tomato Time!

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Many of you know by now that I’m the self-proclaimed Queen of Freeze. Not only do I cook in bulk and then freeze the extras in portion sized containers for future use, but I also freeze unused ingredients that I don’t need at the moment – for example, egg whites when I only need the yolk, or the remaining tomato paste when I only need a tablespoon. I’ve been teased about my frugality, but these bits and bobs have saved a trip to the market many a time.

Quite often I have partial loaves of homemade bread laying in my deep freezer. I generally use them in bread pudding or an omelette casserole. But recently I found a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen for Panzanella, a bread and tomato salad.

It’s quite simple to make, but you need to allow 15 minutes for the bread cubes to toast and the tomatoes to drain, and 10 minutes for the toasted bread cubes to marinate in a vinaigrette, so plan your timing accordingly.

PANZANELLA – makes about 5 cups

  • 6 cups rustic Italian or French loaf, cubed in bite sized pieces
  • 8 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3/4 tsp salt, divided
  • 1½ lbs tomatoes
  • 3 T red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 cucumber, seeded and sliced
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped (TIP: chop in a cup using kitchen shears)
  • 1 shallot clove, sliced thin

Combine bread cubes, 2 T olive oil, and 1/4 tsp salt. Use your hands to mix – it’s easier than a spoon. Pour onto jelly roll pan and bake at 400º fahrenheit for 13-17 minutes (tossing midway), until browned.

While bread is toasting, slice tomatoes in half along the equator and poke with your finger to loosen seeds. Shake halves over sink to remove them. Chop tomatoes into bite sized pieces and put into a strainer that’s resting on a container to catch the juice. Make sure the bottom of the strainer isn’t touching the bottom of the container. Sprinkle on 1/2 tsp salt and mix with hands. The salt will draw out the excess juice. Let drain for, at least, 15 minutes. You’ll use the strained juice in the vinaigrette, so don’t throw it out!

Whisk together 1/4 cup of the strained tomato juice, 6 T olive oil, vinegar, and pepper in a large bowl. Add in the toasted bread cubes and mix to coat. Let marinate for 10 minutes.

To the bread cube marinade add the tomatoes, cucumber, basil, and shallots. Toss gently to mix and serve immediately.