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Panzanella Salad

One thing is for sure at this time of year:  tomatoes take over gardens, Farmer’s Markets, and the grocery store produce aisles.

Gluten-free bread, tomatoes, and fresh basil make a delightful bread salad.

Gluten-free bread, tomatoes, and fresh basil make a delightful bread salad.

One of my favorite ways to use tomatoes is an Italian bread salad known as Panzanella. Originally a dish devised by frugal Italian cooks to use up stale bread, it has evolved into a classy dish that goes far beyond bread, tomatoes, and basil dressed in an olive oil and vinegar dressing. And, it is absolutely gorgeous as you can see in the photo.

I serve this vibrantly colorful dish to rave reviews by dinner guests every summer and although you can serve it year-round, it is best when made with the best tomatoes you can find, which will be summertime. Whether it’s from your own vines, the Farmer’s Market, or generous neighbors the quality of this dish depends on the tomatoes. And it is a great way to use up gluten-free bread.

I have to warn you: If you serve this to guests, make plenty because they will love it and you’re likely to run out. They don’t care if it is gluten-free; it just tastes that good!

Panzanella: Italian Bread Salad

Reprinted with permission from 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes by Carol Fenster (Wiley, 2008)

This is my favorite summer salad and guests happily devour it. It is very colorful and the pleasing crunch of the bread cubes contrasts nicely with the soft, juicy tomatoes. I often vary it by adding marinated artichokes, olives, and baby spinach (and occasionally shrimp or chicken for a main dish) but this is the basic version I start with.

6 slices white gluten-free bread

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons unsalted butter or buttery spread

3/4 teaspoon salt, divided

1 garlic clove, minced

2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, washed, stemmed and halved

1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, chopped (or more to taste) plus a few leaves for garnish

[1] Place a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a large 9×13-inch baking sheet (not nonstick) with foil. Cut crusts from bread (use them for bread pudding or stuffing) and cut remaining bread into 1/2-inch cubes. Place bread cubes in a large bowl.

[2] In a small pan, combine 6 tablespoons of the oil, butter, 1/4-teaspoon of the salt, and garlic in a small pan and cook over low heat until the butter melts, stirring to blend ingredients thoroughly. Pour the oil mixture over the bread cubes and quickly toss to mix well. Spread the bread cubes in a single layer on the baking sheet.

[3] Bake 10 to 20 minutes or until the bread cubes are golden and fragrant, stirring and turning cubes occasionally halfway through for even browning. The amount of time required to brown bread cubes varies depending on the bread you use, so watch carefully to avoid burning. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the bread cubes cool slightly on the baking sheet. The toasted bread cubes should be used within the next 15 minutes for best result

[4] In the same large bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, the remaining 1/2-teaspoon salt, vinegar, and pepper. Add the bread cubes, tomatoes, and onion, and chopped fresh basil and toss until blended. Serve immediately, garnished with additional chopped fresh basil leaves. Makes 4 servings.

Carol’s Kitchen Notes: How to Handle Tomatoes without Bruising Their Egos

[1] Tomatoes should be stored at room temperature, rather than refrigerated because the cold makes them mealy and diminishes their flavor.

[2] Experts say that tomatoes stored stem-side down stay fresh longer. Apparently, the scar where the stem is located releases moisture and provides an entry point for mold and fungus.

[3] Store tomatoes in a single layer, not on top of each other. I put mine in a flat tray on my countertop where they add a pretty, colorful touch to my kitchen.

[4] When my grape or cherry (my favorite variety) tomatoes start to shrivel, I cut them in half, toss with olive oil, and spread them out on a parchment-lined baking sheet to dry in the oven. A setting of about 200°F is ideal. If you have a convection oven, use that setting at 200 degrees. Or, use a dehydrator specially designed for drying food. The amount of time it takes depends on the size and moisture of the tomatoes, so watch carefully. When dry, cool completely on the baking sheet on a wire rack. Then freeze in resealable freezer bags. Use them in soups, salads, sandwiches… any recipe that needs dried tomatoes. I rarely soak them in water to reconstitute, but you can if you like.

 

 

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