panzanella variations

I am most pleased to announce my first monthly food column for the Eugene Weekly came out today!

The article is my last clinging hope that summer will stick around for a few more days, and it responds to the age-old Willamette Valley question about what you can do with all the tomatoes that are just now, just prior to our first frost, ripening by the bucketful.  I wrote about panzanella, the Tuscan bread salad, and variations I’ve made over the last year or so.

I think panzanella is the perfect late summer salad — it’s more hearty than the caprese or plain tomato salads that are so refreshing during the hot, long days.  Panzanella gives us the fortitude we need to face the rains of fall.

I only had room for one panzanella recipe, the base recipe from which all the variations spring, so I wanted to add a few more notes.  The picture appearing in the article, which is the first one in this post, for example, is the fennel olive panzanella with tarragon and parsley.  Those are peppery little Japanese kaiware radish flowers from my garden in the picture, by the way.   You can add nuances to the fennel and tarragon, both anise-y flavors, by adding a 1/2 teaspoon of aniseed or a glug of Herbsaint liqueur to the salad. Fresh, soft, yellow fennelseed from your flowering fennel plant would transform the salad into something exquisite, I guarantee it.

You can see the differences in the bread I used for the wet-bread experiment, ciabatta from Eugene City Bakery (left), Marché Provisions (right), and Metropol (not pictured).  The light crust, big holes and coarse-grained texture of the ECB bread made the panzanella more couscous-like.  See?  The panzanella on the spoon below is couscous-y (and flavored with cucumber, chive vinegar and fresh chives); the panzanella pictured above is custardy, with intact cubes.  The latter is Marcella Hazan’s recipe with capers, anchovies, red pepper, garlic and cucumber, yum.

I had never thought much about the kind of bread to use for the salad before writing the article, and I’m really glad I experimented with it.  The MP bread really did make a custardy, almost bread-pudding-y panzanella, and my extensive staff of kitchen tasters (i.e., my husband Retrogrouch) preferred it greatly over the couscous-y panzanella.

There are some recipes out there that call for darker, heavier bread, and I suppose you could do that, but I dunno.  I mean, strawberry seeded dark rye panzanella?  Yikes.  Sounds…healthy.  I believe in life we pick our poisons, and if that’s yours, well, vaya con dios.  My kitchen is more about making an American burger panzanella with dill pickles and ground meat with a sesame seed garnish.  I think it’s pretty clear who should be trusted in this crucial matter.

On a more serious note, I’m very excited about the EW column, and already researching possibilities for my next article, when fall is really, honestly here.  I’m trying to decide between an Ode to Rain recipe and an American Gothic exposé, giving advice on how to explore the darker, bitterer side of cuisine.  I also have a kickass cranberry sauce recipe, hm.  And then there’s that beef jerky I’ve been meaning to discuss, which is also very American Gothic if you ask me, with its desiccated flesh.  Ah, decisions, decisions.  I guess fall won’t be so bad.