Saturday, August 25, 2012

panzanella and warm marinated olives

We've been getting a lot of different tomatoes lately, including grape tomatoes, yellow pear tomatoes, and beautiful heirloom tomatoes. It truly is one of the best things about summer. If I were really smart about this, I would have turned all these wonderful tomatoes into a marinara sauce to freeze and save for the winter ahead, but lately I just can't help myself. I can't stop eating them! Whether sliced and doused with olive oil and basil...

Or in a sandwich, with a schmear of mayonnaise, coarse sea salt, and lots of cracked black pepper...

Or in panzanella, which is an Italian bread and tomato salad. All this salad needs day-old crusty bread, and gorgeous tomatoes and fresh basil, and just a simple vinaigrette dressing. I made mine a little differently based on what I had in the kitchen; you can always play around with the ingredients. Maybe swap feta for the fresh mozzarella (it may not be traditional, but it's good!). Maybe add some shallots. Do what you like!


For the bread:
  • a little shy of half a loaf of day-old, crusty artisan bread
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Slice the bread into cubes (about half an inch or so). I would estimate that I had about 4 cups of cubed bread (maybe!). Spread onto a baking sheet pan, then drizzle olive oil on top - not a lot, just a little bit to help the bread brown nicely. Season with salt and pepper. Toss everything together with your hands to distribute the olive oil, then bake for about 10-12 minutes until they are crunchy and golden brown around the edges.

This may seem like an unnecessary step; you might be thinking, why toast it and let it get crunchy only to soak it in dressing later? But I think letting it toast in the oven lets it dry out even further so that it can soak up all that flavorful dressing more.

For the rest of the salad:
  • lots of tomatoes - I used one very large heirloom tomato, one medium red tomato, and about 10 sun-dried tomatoes, rehydrated in hot water for 10 minutes, then chopped (sun-dried tomatoes aren't necessary here, but I like them)
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1 small onion (shallots would have been better, but I didn't have any), chopped small; about 1/4 cup
  • about 1/2 cup of fresh mozzarella, in small cubes
  • about 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • about 1/4 cup of your best extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • lots of fresh basil

While the bread is in the oven, make the dressing. In a large bowl, mix the red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper (you can season generously as this makes a large salad!) Mince the garlic clove with a little salt - whenever I use garlic for a raw preparation, I like to do it this way because the salt helps break down the garlic a little bit. Chop the onion (or shallot). I didn't want raw onions in here as they might overpower the tomatoes, so I decided to roast the onion slightly in the oven as well (the oven was already hot anyway!) to sweeten them a bit and make them less pungent - probably not even 10 minutes. If I had shallots, I probably wouldn't have roasted them as they are more mellow than regular onions. Add the roasted onions (or shallots) to the dressing.

Chop the tomatoes and add them (including any tomato juice that collects on your cutting board) to the bowl. Add the crunchy bread as well, and toss everything together so that the bread soaks up the dressing. Toss in the fresh mozzarella, and simply tear the fresh basil leaves over the bowl.

Check for seasoning, and adjust as necessary. Allow the salad to sit for about 10 minutes (it gets better!), if you can wait that long :)

The salad was a study of contrasting textures and flavors: croutons softened by a slightly tangy, fruity olive oil dressing, plump, juicy tomatoes at the peak of their sweetness, chewy sun-dried tomatoes, and mild, creamy mozzarella, and fresh, sweet basil. Yum. As I was eating it, I was already thinking about how much I would enjoy the leftovers for lunch the next day. I know. I think ahead like that. 

This was an easy weeknight dinner, along with some warm marinated olives - simply a mix of a variety of olives from Whole Foods' antipasto bar, which I packed into a glass jar (with the olive oil it comes in), and set into a small pot of simmering water for about 20-30 minutes. This was inspired by a visit to Flour (a nearby Italian restaurant) last weekend. Warm marinated olives are a part of their appetizer list; and interestingly, we never ordered them before, thinking, oh, it's just olives - I can have them at home anytime, why would I order it at a restaurant? But we decided to get them on our last visit and it was a revelation. We were in olive heaven (a little dramatic, I know).  I've always loved olives. Little did I know that enjoying them warm takes them to a whole other level. (I'm not the last one to learn about this, am I?) Letting them sit in a hot water bath allows the flavors to bloom, and it's just worlds better than the usual cold olives in typical antipasto platters. I guess it's a similar concept as letting cheeses sit at room temperature for a little bit - not serving it straight out of the fridge - before enjoying it on a cheese platter. Believe me. Give it a try. You'll never go back to cold olives.

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Kristin said...

Oh YUM! I adore heirloom tomatoes, AND panzanella, and now I'll definitely have to try warm olives...they sound amazing :-). Hope your week is off to a great start Mia!

Mia (Savor Everyday) said...

Thanks Kristin! I hope you try the warm olives... let me know what you think!

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