Saturday, July 31, 2010

Tried and True - Panzanella Salad (Or is it fattoush?)

Panzanella. Fattoush.  Fattoush. Panzanella.  Italy.  Lebanon. Syria.  Whatever you call it and wherever it comes from, bread and tomato salad is a wonderful thing.  During fresh tomato season this dish is a staple in our house.  It is quick and easy to make and serve.  (Oh yes.  The words we love to hear.  Quick and easy.)  It is also healthy and affordable.   It can be served as an everyday family meal or it can be served with pride to guests with some good wine and cheese.  And some rich cornmeal or semolina cake soaked with a honey syrup for dessert.

And it tastes great.  I probably eat some version of this salad once a week throughout tomato season.
This is another one of those dishes which lend themselves to infinite variations, depending on your personal tastes and the state of your larder.

The main difference between panzanella and fattoush is the type of bread used.  Panzanella uses Italian or French "country bread" - bread with a fair amount of substance to it.  Wonder Bread or its kin need not apply.  Fattoush uses single layers of pita bread cut into wedges.  Both breads need to be somewhat dry so they can properly soak up the salad juices and still not get too soggy.  The pitas can be baked in a moderate oven 10 minutes or so - until they are crisp.  The country bread should be cut into pieces about 3/4 inch in size.  If the bread is still pretty fresh, best to bake the pieces a while to dry them out.  Wikipedia says that for panzanella salad you really should use stale saltless Tuscan bread that has been baked in a wood (I think they meant wood fired) oven.  If you can get such stuff, good for you.  But I would not put off making this fabulous salad just because you don't happen to have the right kind of Tuscan bread.

My husband made a batch of his famous homemade whole wheat pita a few days ago, so I decided to use pita triangles.  So really the title of this post should be fattoush, not panzanella salad.

Here are the ingredients and proportions I used.  This is just a guideline - vary according to your taste.  If you want a heartier salad with more protein, consider adding some cooked chickpeas or white beans.  I don't think that is a conventional thing to do - but who is going to stop you?  The panzanella police?

Some people add tuna or anchovies.   I think I am going to try sardines some time soon.  If you like the piquant taste of olives or capers, by all means add one or the other.  (I think it would be too much to use both).  If you are not too worried about calories and want more protein, you could also add some cheese.  Feta would be a good choice for fattoush.  Perhaps a good mozzarella or asiago for the panzanella.  A little goes a long way.

Makes about 8 cups - enough for 4 servings. 
3 heaping cups fresh tomatoes, cut in 1/2 to 1 inch pieces - include all the juices, don't drain
1 1/2 c. chopped cucumbers (peeled and seeded- no need to salt and drain)
1/2 cup cut up sweet peppers
1 cup coarsely chopped sweet or red onion
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped or sliced
(some chopped mint - optional)
2 t. finely minced fresh garlic
1/4 t. salt (You shouldn't need any more, especially if you use fresh herbs)
2 heaping cups broken up toasted pita triangles
Dressing:  4 T. olive oil, 2 T. red wine vinegar (You may want to increase this a little if you want a juicier salad.  You could also just add a bit of tomato juice or even a tablespoon or two of water.)

Have a nice weekend.  You might want to check your supplies so you are ready to make tomato bread salad when those first fresh tomatoes of the season come in.

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