Saturday, February 16, 2008

Day 2: Tuscan Bread Salad (Panzanella)

This actually turned out better than I thought it would. It reminded me of Gazpacho (Spanish cold tomato soup) which I like a lot. Both would be nice on a warm summer day, though not the same summer day. They taste too much alike. I’m be tempted to try this one without the tuna, my wife (who hates tuna) suggested chicken instead. I’d actually go without any meat at all.

So it turned out alright in the end, but holy crap, what an ordeal. This is exactly the kind of thing that drives me nuts about cookbooks. Salad. Should be simple. No cooking involved, throw some ingredients in a bowl, add dressing, serve, eat. Right? Wrong.

The idea is pretty simple: Some day old bread soaked in a weak red-wine vinegar mix, add some tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh basil, spices, chopped green or yellow peppers, and the tuna. Toss with vinaigrette, eat.

I should have known there would be trouble right from the start. The recipe says to use “a baguette and a half or a country loaf.” That’s a lot of bread. I don’t even know what a country loaf is, but if it's about as big as a baguette and a half, it’s a lot of freaking bread. But, continuing with my policy of following recipes to the letter, I used a baguette and a half, cut it up and left it out overnight.

I came back the next night and read the second step, and found more trouble: Soak the bread in 1/4th cup of red wine vinegar mixed with “enough water to soak it through.” How much is that? Did I not mention that I don’t know how to cook? Oh, wait, the book is Cooking for Dummies! How could I possibly expect them to guess that? Not even a clue. Another quarter cup? 2 cups? I get the idea: just enough to get the bread good and damp, but not soaking. But I have zero experience with this. HOW MUCH WATER IS THAT? I had to guess, and I hate guessing, because I have no point of reference.

So I started with equal parts vinegar and water and poured it over the bread, and added about another cup of water, a quarter cup at a time. It probably wasn’t quite enough.

Actually, I didn’t do that. Not exactly. I actually poured half of the vinegar/water (1/8th of a cup of each) over about half the bread in one bowl, and the other half over the rest in another bowl, because, did I mention? A baguette and a half is a lot of freaking bread! I don’t own a bowl big enough to hold all the tomatoes, cucumbers, and green onions I chopped up and put into it and then tried to put the bread on top of.

You don’t either. No one does.

So where do you put the bread while you’re trying to soak it with the vinegar and water? In a second bowl, and (if you’re me) in a large tupperware as well, because your second bowl is overflowing as well. Once I split the tomatoes etc. into two separate bowls, there was still not enough room left in the two bowls for all the bread. Here’s a picture of the mess. You probably can’t see all the tiny, soaked bread crumbs all over the counter. My wife could. From the next room.

If I ever make this again, I think I'll cut the recipe in half. It says it makes 4 servings, but I think it's much closer to 8. Maybe it's 4 entreƩ servings or 8 side servings. Otherwise, I'd probably put the bread into 2 separate bowls before putting in any of the other stuff. The bread tends to get a little smaller after you soak it with the water/vinegar (and press it in a towel to get rid of the excess). At that point, I think you could add the vegetables and have two full bowls without overflowing.

I’m still not sure if it’s cool to reproduce the recipes here, so here are a couple of links to other Panzanella recipes on the internets. It’s a nice summery dish, it has a nice combination of tart from the vinegar and sweetness from the tomatoes, cucumbers, and basil. I think I’ve heard that combining opposite flavors like that is a good thing to do. Unless you do it wrong, in which case it’s not good. The whole point of this was to learn for myself when it works and when it doesn’t (before I make a mess of the kitchen). No help there yet. Keep your fingers crossed.

Panzanella (epicurious)

Panzanella (

(PS: Sorry for the quality of the photos. My digital camera is acting up, so I took these with my phone and it needs more light than this, so they came out a little blurry. It was actually quite tasty. Much better than it looks here).

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