Panzanella salad on July 31, 2008 in the Free Press studio. (Mary Schroeder/Detroit Free Press/TNS)
Photo: MARY SCHROEDER/TNS
Photo: MARY SCHROEDER/TNS

This salad makes good use of stale bread and not-so-pretty tomatoes

When you’re puzzled about what to do with leftover bread that’s getting stale, think panzanella.

This Italian bread salad pairs herbs and vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers with cubes of leftover bread. Panzanella is drizzled lightly with a vinaigrette.

The juices from the tomatoes and cucumber paired with the vinaigrette help moisten the bread enough to keep it somewhat crisp, but soft enough to eat. The vinaigrette can be as simple as a fruity olive oil mixed with mild white or red wine vinegar. Be sure to add a few pinches of sugar to the vinaigrette to tame the tang and also help bring out the flavor of the tomatoes. In today’s recipes, the sugar is sprinkled directly on the tomatoes and allowed to sit for 15 minutes.

In addition to providing a use for bread that’s getting stale, a panzanella is also a way to rescue not-so-pretty tomatoes.

And that’s where heirloom tomatoes come in. Heirloom tomatoes are known for their odd names like Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter and Cherokee Purple. They’re also know for not being particularly pretty.

Heirlooms sometimes have odd, gnarly or not-so-uniform like shapes. The area around the stem is sometimes sunken in, and the shoulders of the tomato are sometimes ribbed. Some shoulders also look as if they’re pleated.

Panzanella salad should always consist of bread and tomatoes. After that, you can use whatever vegetables you have at hand. You can also add fresh herb leaves to the salad or chopped herbs to the vinaigrette. Just be sure to go easy on stronger herbs like rosemary and oregano or they’ll overpower your salad.

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PANZANELLA WITH HERBS

Serves: 12 (side dish servings) / Prep time: 15 minutes / Total time: 15 minutes

Panzanella is an Italian bread salad traditionally made with onions, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, vinegar and seasonings mixed with stale bread.

1 pint grape tomatoes, washed, halved

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 day-old baguette (16 ounces) cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

1 hothouse cucumber, washed, cut in half lengthwise and sliced

4 green onions, washed, thinly sliced

1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

2 cups blanched green beans or asparagus

Favorite all-purpose seasoning blend such as Mrs. Dash or Morton Nature’s Seasons Seasoning Blend

VINAIGRETTE

3/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar or white vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

1 garlic clove, pressed

2 tablespoons fresh chopped herbs such as tarragon, thyme or basil

Place the tomatoes in a large bowl and sprinkle with the salt and sugar. Set aside for 15 minutes.

Tear or cut the bread slices into bite-size pieces and place in a large serving bowl. Add the cucumber, green onions, red onion slices and green beans. Add the tomatoes and their juices. Sprinkle salad with seasoning blend or season as desired.

In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine all the vinaigrette ingredients and shake well to combine. Drizzle the vinaigrette sparingly over the salad and toss it gently to coat. You may have leftover vinaigrette. It will keep for several days and can be used on any salad.

From and tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.

203 calories (47 percent from fat), 11 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 23 g carbohydrates, 4 g protein, 350 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol, 21 mg calcium, 2 g fiber.

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