Something seriously exciting happened yesterday morning.
My phone started ringing at 9 AM, and the caller ID showed a random number from New Hampshire. Since I was still half asleep, I angrily cursed at my phone while grumbling that I don't know anyone in New Hampshire, and immediately went back to bed.
An hour later I when I was actually awake, I listened to the voicemail that the mystery New Hampshire caller left.
Mr. New Hampshire reminded me that last weekend at the Vintage Virginia Wine Festival, I entered a contest to win a door prize. It turns out that I won the GRAND prize, which is four round-trip, all-expenses paid airline tickets.
He informed me that I could use the tickets to go anywhere, but when I picked up the paperwork yesterday afternoon it turns out that I'm somewhat limited in terms of cities. I can go pretty much anywhere in the United States or the Caribbean, but my European choices are limited to London, Paris, Rome, and Venice. I am certainly not complaining - trust me. The only two countries I've been to in Europe are Switzerland and Liechtenstein, so I'm pretty open to going anywhere.
Now, here's where I need guidance from those of you who are a) from Europe, or b) have traveled to the above cities. I'm pretty much set on Paris. It has been my dream vacation for as long as I can remember, so it's definitely on the agenda.
Do any of you have thoughts on London versus Rome versus Venice? I probably won't be taking advantage of these tickets for about a year (gotta save spending money after all) but I'm really excited and interested to hear opinions from people who have been to these places.
I should probably stop rambling on about my trip and tell you a bit about this salad. If you have never had Panzanella, puh-lease consider it a must try this summer. You're going to want to make this during summer months only, unless you live somewhere that has good tomatoes and basil all year long, in which case, I would like to move in with you ASAP. I keep the air-conditioner on 67, waste a lot of paper towels, have been known to wake up in the middle of the night uttering nonsense like "bacon hair" (true story...) and sleep at incredibly odd hours, but otherwise I'm a good roommate.
Here's what you'll need:
1 large french baguette, cut or torn into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 anchovy fillets, minced
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, cored, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and sliced thin
1 shallot, sliced thin
1 large handful chopped fresh basil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and adjust oven rack to the middle. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set aside.
Toss the bread pieces with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown, stirring halfway through. Set aside, and cool until room temperature.
In a large bowl, gently toss the tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Transfer the tomatoes to a colander, and set over the bowl. Set aside to drain for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally.
Whisk the remaining 6 tablespoons of olive oil, vinegar, garlic, minced anchovies, capers, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper into the drained tomato juices. Add the bread chunks, toss to coat, and let sit for 10 minutes, tossing occasionally.
Add the tomatoes, cucumbers, shallots, and basil to the bread mixture. Toss to coat, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.
Source: Adapted from Cooks Illustrated