Prepare Panzanella for Winter
An image search for “panzanella” will return countless photos of bread and tomatoes in beautiful wooden bowls. It makes sense because wooden bowls are the preferred vessels for anything “Tuscan”, and bread and tomatoes are the two main ingredients in panzanella, a summer salad made with stale bread and ripe produce.
Well, summer is not the same, but “bread salad” is just what you want after a month and a half of winter rest. It is comforting and satiating because of the bread; but it’s also a salad, which means vegetables – something you could probably use a little more right now. Here are a few strategies for making winter panzanella.
Start with dense bread
Traditional Tuscan bread is great, as is anything with a chewy texture and open, airy crumbs, such as sourdough or ciabatta; or something crunchy, like French or Italian. But given that it’s winter, you should also dare to use something a little more whimsical, like delicious, sweet black bread or dark rye bread.
Cut the bread into cubes or tear into small pieces, then dry in the oven. (Panzanella is traditionally made with stale bread, but as we said before , drying the bread, even if it’s already a little stale, will give your salad the best flavor and texture:
Drying is the simple process of removing as much moisture from bread as possible, usually in a low-temperature oven, resulting in crispy cracker-like cubes. Staling is a little different: moisture evaporates, but it also migrates from swollen starch grains to air spaces in the crumb and bread crust. These starches are then rearranged and recrystallized without moisture, resulting in dry but not crispy bread. Instead of crunchy little cubes, you get leathery, chewy bites…which I personally don’t want in my favorite bread-based side dish.
Place the bread cubes in the oven at 275℉ for 45 minutes, stirring with a spatula every 10-15 minutes to ensure even drying. Remove as soon as they have just begun to stain around the edges.
Swap Tomatoes for Winter Foods
Unless you live in the southern hemisphere, it’s unlikely you’ll find a good tomato in the store right now, but that’s okay. Many parts of winter plants are now in season.
Tomatoes, the main non-bread ingredient in this salad, bring bright sourness and a touch of sweetness to set off the starchy bread. Dried or sliced citrus can add the same juicy flavor, and there are so many great examples in the season right now. (Add red oranges for drama.) Apples and pears aren’t as juicy, but they’re acidic and deliciously crunchy. Choose your favorite.
Squash is another product that is perfect for a homemade salad. Roasted walnut or roasted delicacies are sweet and filling, and they’re also great when drizzled with a spicy vinaigrette sauce. You can also add bitter greens like radicchio or mashed cabbage if you want to fill your plate with roughage even more.
Add some cheese
Cheese is not a traditional panzanella ingredient, but I can’t imagine a winter salad without it. Anything fancy goes best with apples, pears, and zucchini, so take a really tasty blueberry, feta, or chevra and refrigerate it so it’s easier to crumble . Spicy shredded cheddar or nutty aged gouda will also work quite well.
Don’t forget the bulbs
Onions are the third most popular and common panzanella ingredient, and there is no reason to forego them in the winter. Don’t overdo it: thinly slice your favorite raw onion or shallot and add it to the mixture. If you want to think a little , you can mix caramelized onions with apples or pears before adding them to bread.
Dress with care
The biggest panzanella mistake you can make is overdoing it. Toasted bread can hold more liquid than fresh, soft bread, but you don’t want your salad to float in the vinaigrette. The easiest way to prevent this is to make a thick, highly acidic dressing , so that helps a little. This template will help you with that, but lately I’ve been oddly addicted to this cheap vinaigrette , and it can be made with a few pantry staples. Drizzle without pouring and serve immediately or let stand at room temperature for an hour to blend the flavors.