Over the summer and throughout the seasons, the menus seem to change around here. Instead of seeing so many hearty soups such as pappa col pomodoro or ribollita, they are replaced with summery salads. Many of these salads still are based on the poor cuisine of Tuscan farm families, but are a little bit better suited to the hot summer days. Believe me, when it is so hot here, you do not want to be eating a heavy, hot soup. But on these summer days, a salad such as panzanella is perfect! We have been making this salad quite often in the cooking school, and a couple of nights ago, Justin and I decided to try it at home as well.
Here's what you need:
- stale bread (really stale, rock hard is perfect)
- red wine vinegar
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- tomatoes (I like cherry tomatoes because they are a little sweeter)
- red onion
Cut the bread into thick pieces or chunks. These can even be an inch or so thick. Place the pieces in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Also add a few dashes of red wine vinegar. Put something over the bread to weight it down into the water. Let the water soak into the bread until when you touch the bread, it is almost falling apart. The amount of time will depend on the bread, but it shouldn't be more than 30 minutes. When the bread has reached this point, take handfuls out of the water, squeezing as much water out of it as possible. You can even use a salad spinner, after squeezing, to get even more moisture out of the bread. The bread should be kind of the consistency of cous cous. Add to the bread the tomatoes, which should be halfed or quartered, depending on their size, sliced red onion, peeled and sliced cucumber, fresh basil, salt and pepper. Mix everything together and dress with olive oil and vinegar. Cover lightly and let chill until cool. Drizzle with olive oil before serving.