Monday, June 11, 2012

Panzanella (Italian Bread Salad) with Garlic and Capers


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.

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Source: Adapted from Cooks Illustrated

18 comments:

  1. I've always wanted to make panzanella. This looks delicious!!

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    1. Oh you definitely should...make sure you have a few people to help you eat it though...I'm ashamed to admit how much of this I scarfed down by myself :)

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  2. OH MY GOSH congrats!!! That's so exciting! After this past semester, I've been to all of those European cities, and I'd love to give you my input!!!

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    1. Thanks Bianca! I may need to stalk your blog to help my decision making since I know you've posted a lot about your travels!

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    2. Haha be my guest! It'll motivate me to put up more posts about my trips!

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  3. love panzanella....will try your recipe soon. And as far as europe....depends on when you plan to go. earlier in the year, rome or venice, but later hit up london. I used to live in the uk, so I know there is lots to do, but the contintent has all the history & romance & hansome men.....
    ps would love some advice about blogging too...just set mine up (adventurefoodlove.com) so feed back is always greatly appreciated:)

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  4. Oh la la congrats on you tickets. That is way awesome!!!! I can't offer any advice on travels.... I have never been out of the country. Delicious salad

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  5. I am so happy to see you have made one of my all time favourite Italian salads....this looks so colourful nd delicious!

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  6. I absolutely LOVE panzanella. I haven't had it in forever so I'll be making this very soon!

    And congrats on those tickets. Since you have 4, I can go too, right? :)

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  7. I have been to Venice in the summer several times. What I found is that it is so overrun with tourists, it is so hard to enjoy this beautiful city. It would be lovely if you could go for Carnevale though. I have been to Paris, but that was a long time ago (in the 80's) and I was in 8th grade, so that may not really count. From what I remember, it was beautiful and the pastries are to die for. I would love to be able to go to London, but definitely not this year (Olympics and all, would be way too crowded). I hope Rome is in my future but not during the summer, when the tourists flood the place.
    I hope this helps with making your decision.
    I love Panzanella and thanks to you it's on the menu for this weekend. I am sure this will be perfect with Father's Day steaks.

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    1. Thanks for the info Heike! I get cranky in crowds, so if I decide on Venice I'll make sure to hit it during the off season.

      Hope you enjoyed the panzanella!

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  8. A definite YES to Paris. And don't stay in a big hotel! Stay somewhere small and funky. We stayed at the Hotel Sully Ste Germaine and LOVED it. Very small. It's in the Latin Quarter, blocks from Notre Dam. And you have street prouce markets, plus the required little pattiserie, boulangerie, and other assorted shops. Grab some cheese, some bread, and water or wine. Explore. Easy to get to on the Metro (buy your Metropass online before you go--it's cheaper and you can go anywhere). The Louvre is easy--but use the side entrance in an arch rather than the main entrance to avoid the long lines at entry. I like London too, but this whole year it will be a crush. Paris my dream home. A lovely pied a terre in Mont Mare (by the Sacre Couer). Don't fall for the schlock artists that will try to draw your portraits up there though--WAY overpriced.

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    1. Thanks for the Louvre tip! Your mention of cheese, bread, and wine is enough to make me want to hop on a plane there right now! I think I'm most excited for the food over there, of course :)

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  9. That's amazing - congrats! I've been to all 4 places and would probably fly to Rome and then travel all over Italy :)

    And your panzanella looks delicious!

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  10. I live in London and it's wonderful! You should come here! Just promise me you'll stay away from the horrific tourist traps like Leicester Square and stick to the proper bits that us Londoners love. Plus, Paris is a mere 2h30mins away on the Eurostar train, so you can do both!

    Love the blog, by the way - I've just started reading and it's fab!

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  11. Geez, I'm jealous! If you're going for the food, go to Rome, if you're going for the ambiance, go to Paris and if you're going for the beer, go to London. :)
    That's my advice...

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  12. I don't think the choice is London vs Rome vs Venice, it's London vs Rome AND Venice. If you went to either Rome or Venice, you could easily (actually should, IMHO) incorpate the other in the same trip. You can very quickly and easily get from one to the other via the inexpensive and efficient train system there. Rome, Florence, and Venice are really the big three absolute must-see cities in Italy, and you can quite easily include all of these and not have to rush them in a trip as short as 9 days (2 days for Venice, half a day to get to Florence and then 2 1/2 days to see Florence, then three days to see Rome, and one day to get back to Venice to catch your flight). Better yet, take two weeks or three weeks and you can add in whatever else suits your fancy (other parts of Tuscany, Milan, Cinque Terra, Assissi, Naples, Amalfi coast, etc.). If you travel like most people, then when you go from the US to Europe your plane tickets are going to be by far the most expensive single purchase you will make on the trip. As such, you should take advantage of your freebies and not waste them by doing a blow-in/blow-out trip to see just one or two cities which would force you to cough up big $$$$ at a later time for another set of pricey plane tickets to see the cities you missed the first time around. Opinions can vary, but it seems to me like if you're coming from the US, spending anything less then two full weeks there is a waste of money (or in your case a partial waste of a free plane ticket).

    Do your tickets allow you open jaw? If so, if you do Italy you should fly into Venice and fly home from Rome (or vice-versa), saving you both the time and money of having to work your way back up to a city you've already seen.

    As for London vs Rome+Venice, one thing to note is that while Italy is a relatively inexpensive place to travel by developed world standards, London is outrageously expensive if you're earning your bucks in US dollars. As great a place as London is, that clearly tips the scales to Rome/Venice/Italy for me.

    Also note that the train advice applies to everywhere else in Europe, too. If your tickets do allow an open-jaw, then you actually have a great opportunity to see all four cities. Use two of the tickets for you and your buddy to go to Italy, and you can use the other two to fly into Paris, kick around in France for a while, then catch quick a Chunnel train from Paris straight to London, goof around in England for a while, and fly home right from London. If you can't open-jaw, then you could just take the chunnel both ways to fold London into the Paris trip.

    Whatever you ultimately decide on doing, enjoy!

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    1. Wow, thank you so much for all of this info Ryan! Good to know about London being expensive...even though my tickets are covered, I'd rather not break the bank on this trip! You definitely make a good point about staying a few weeks and trying to squeeze in some of the other cities in Italy.

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