I had planned on making a tomato risotto tonight. Had a change of plan though and opted for panzanella instead.
Tomato, cucumber and bread salad
There are several famous Italian bread salads such as cialedd from Apulia and insalata di pane con peperoni (bread salad with roasted peppers) from Sicily. In this salad, the primary ingredients are tomatoes (although I have added seedless cucumber and oil-cured olives because I had those on hand). The success of this salad depends on the quality of the bread. It should contain no added sugar or eggs and must be chewy and substantial, not light and airy, in order to stand up to the dressing. An unsalted, peasant bread is perfect, but it must be stale — preferably one or two days old.
You’ll be tempted to add balsamic vinegar when making the dressing. I implore you not to. I feel that balsamic vinegar, like white truffle oil and sun-dried tomatoes, is an ingredient that’s outstayed its welcome. I confess that I have a bottle in my pantry; however I rarely use it, because it tends to overwhelm a dish when used injudiciously. True aceto balsamico tradizionale is a thick, glossy, deep brown, syrupy liquid that’s been aged for a minimum of twelve years in several wooden barrels of successively smaller sizes. It has a complex flavor that balances the natural sweet and sour elements of the cooked grape juice with hints of wood from the casks. In the United States, a bottle of aceto balsamico tradizionale will cost anywhere from $100 to $400 for a few milliliters. The “balsamic vinegar” that you see in supermarkets is really red wine vinegar with some caramel coloring and a bit of sweetener added — a far cry from the real thing.
If you must use “balsamic vinegar”, then add 3 or 4 tablespoons in place of the sherry vinegar. That’s a sufficient amount in my opinion.
2 ripe tomatoes, diced
1 lb. sturdy white Italian bread or salt-free Tuscan bread if you can get it, cut into 1″ cubes
1/2 seedless cucumber, diced
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 T. sherry vinegar
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 scallion, minced (white and green parts)
2 T. oil-cured olives, pitted and chopped
1 T. chopped fresh oregano
2 T. chopped fresh basil
kosher salt, to taste
freshly milled black pepper, to taste
Combine the oil, 3-4 tablespoons water, vinegar, onion, scallion, olives, herbs, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Marinate for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.
Combine bread, tomatoes and cucumber in a bowl. Toss. Pour the dressing over, toss well and check seasoning. Serve immediately.