Panzanella is a simple salad of tomatoes and bread. This classic Italian dish is a great addition to any summer picnic or backyard cookout, especially if you are taking the ingredients from you own garden. The freshness of the ingredients is the key to a flavorful salad.
The common panzanella of Italy is stale chunks of bread that have been soaked in water and then squeezed to extract the water leaving you with soft bread, ripe tomatoes, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Some places will add onion, basil, parsley, or peppers. I’ve never been one for soggy er… um… I mean… rehydrated bread and thankfully the many talented chefs in this country have opted for a variety of croutons. This adds flavor as well as contrast in texture of the dish. Now if the salad isn’t eaten right away then the work you put into making the croutons will be wasted because as they soak up the juices they will rehydrate and lose their crunch. So, the tip here is to make the salad, minus the croutons, ahead of time and let the flavors develop. Right before you are going to eat it, add the croutons and toss it well.
With restaurants around the country trying to take the simple things and make them elegant, the go to additions to a panzanella are lobster and heirloom tomatoes. These two ingredients not only add elegance, but flavor and color making a salad that is not only great to eat but beautiful on the plate as well.
In the recipe I’ve included below, I use tangerine segments and juice instead of vinegar to give it a brighter, lighter feel.
Some tips to prepare the Lobster Panzanella:
If you are unsure about cooking a lobster just ask your favorite fish monger if he or she will steam it for you. At FRESH our Seafood Department will steam your lobsters for free while you do the rest of your shopping! When you get it home use a pair of heavy kitchen scissors, but a pair of tin-snips work the best. Cut open the tail, claws, knuckles, the part that connects the claw to the body, and remove the meat. The thin legs also have some meat in them and the easiest way to get it is to cut them just below the large joint that connects them to the body. Lay them on a cutting board and use a rolling pin to roll over them. The meat will push out of the end where you cut them.
When you pick your tomatoes, look for firm, not hard, tomatoes with deep color. Heirlooms come in all colors, shapes and sizes so using a variety will really give your salad a nice look. The different sizes will give you different cuts as well. The larger the tomato the more cubed the cuts will be and the smaller will give you halves and quarters.
Roughly chopped basil; allow me to clarify. That’s roughly as in irregularly not as in violently. Basil is a very delicate herb and bruises easily. If you try to chop it with a dull knife in a violent manner you will probably end up with ugly bits of black leaves in your salad. Make sure your knife is sharp and you are running your knife through the basil not mashing the knife on it.
Finally, when you are segmenting your tangerines, do it over the bowl that you’ll be using for the salad so you capture as much juice as you can.
I hope you enjoy this salad and if you are a wine drinker, try a sauvignon blanc with it.
1 small rustic bread
3 Tbs olive oil
2 large ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored and cubed
1 medium red onion, julienne
12 large basil leaves, rough chop
Segments of three tangerines
Remaining juice of the three tangerines
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs sea salt
Lobster meat (from 2 lb lobster), cut into pieces
Remove crust from bread and cut into 3/4” to 1” cubes. Heat oil in a large pan over med-high heat. Add the cubed bread and cook until golden brown tossing frequently. Remove bread from the pan and set aside to cool. In large bowl mix all other ingredients. Prior to serving add toasted bread cubes and toss.