Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tomato Panzanella Salad

I still remember, vividly, the first time I tasted a cherry tomato.
I was in my great-aunt's backyard in Texas, it was sultriest summer, and there it was . . . ripe for the picking.
More than the taste, I remember the smell and the texture.  How do you describe the smell of a tomato?  There is something peculiarly green about it . . . something immediately recognizable, and yet otherwise indescribable.  I also remember the slightly tough skin giving way, and then the juicy gush.  It made me shudder, in a not entirely pleasurable way.

Although I've always liked tomatoey things (sauce, and salsa, and even ketchup), I've had to cultivate a taste for the raw tomato.  Sometimes they are too mushy; sometimes they are too wet; sometimes (often) they lack flavor.  A few weeks ago, though, I ate the most deliciously tomatoey dish . . . and ever since, I've craved tomatoes. 

A tomato panzanella salad is a classic Italian dish; indeed, I noticed one on Jamie's Italian new summer menu last week.  It contains so many of the classic Italian ingredients (tomatoes, olive oil, basil, mozzarella, ciabatta) -- but how much more sublime they taste when soaked and tossed together.

This version of the dish comes from Vanessa Miller -- a friend of mine who runs her own catering company and teaches cooking classes at Treetops in Newbury, Berkshire.  Although Vanessa made several delicious and imaginative salads during a recent class, this tomato salad was the crowd favorite -- according to my informal straw poll, not to mention the running commentary of mmm's and ah's.  It's a really flavorful twist on the caprese (which can get a little tired), and I know it will be my favorite salad this summer . . . great with grilled meat or as a stand-alone light lunch or supper.

Red and Yellow Cherry Tomato Panzanella Salad with Basil, Olives and Mozzarella

500g red vine cherry tomatoes
500g yellow vine cherry tomatoes
1 garlic clove, cut in half
1 small red onion
30g mini capers
sprigs of basil -- Greek basil if you have it
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp caster sugar
100g Kalamata olives, pitted
250g baby buffalo mozzarella balls
400g plain crusty ciabatta or other coutnry bread, toasted, and cut into cubes
extra virgin olive oil
black pepper
red wine vinegar

Rub the inside of a large mixing bowl with the cut garlic and then add the ciabatta cubes and capers.

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half, reserving all of the juices, and place in the bowl.

Thinly slice the red onion, pit and cut the olives in half, and add both ingredients to the tomatoes.  Mix gently and season with the salt, sugar and pepper.  Add a good glug of olive oil and red wine vinegar.  Leave for about half an hour for the juices to run and be absorbed by the bread.

Before serving, roughly rip the mozzarella balls in half and add to the tomato mixture, gently mixing together.  Place the salad in a serving bowl and sprinkle generously with basil sprigs.

Note: This makes a "company" size bowl of salad.  For my family of four, I would halve this recipe . . . and still have enough left-overs to toss with pasta the next day.  (just remove the bread before you refrigerate)

No tomatoes yet . . . but the plants in my garden are coming along!


julochka said...

mmm, beautiful. i've got 4 tomato plants inside the terrace, which acts as a kind of greenhouse. we'd never have a ripe tomato if we left them on their own outside. yours looks so healthy and green.

i've noticed that the tomatoes from the stores have started to taste of something again, so this just might be the perfect dinner for us this evening.

Marion Williams-Bennett said...

This is summer to me! Just perfect. Our tomatoes still have a ways to go, so for now, I roast them...but it won't be long!

Thank you for this!

Lisa-Marie said...

Do you think it's fate that I have everything (or a version of everything) except the mozzarella for this, and it could easily be gotten?

It looks DELCIOUS!

Bee said...

J - Last summer we planted tomatoes and they NEVER ripened. There just wasn't enough sun. Let's hope for better luck this year . . . although today is cloudy and mizzling.

Marion - Yes! It really is the taste of summer. With fresh corn on the cob and a slice of watermelon on the side.

Lisa-Marie - It's definitely your delicious fate.

TBM said...

I don't know what it is about bread in salad, but it always interests me :-) And I adore the red onion, caper, tomato, garlic combination. Very nice, Bee, can't wait to try it!

Nimble said...

My favorite salad along these lines is tomatoes, cukes, and green onion in a mustard vinaigrette. Top with crumbled feta and throw in stale bread squares if you've got 'em. I'm still waiting for farmer's market tomato season here in Kansas...

Anne said...

Hooray! Summer posts have begun! This looks fabulous. I think the red onions and red wine vinegar really are key--there's something about those tastes that just make the salad seem right. I made the first panzanella of the season a week or two ago, and while the tomatoes still aren't quite optimal yet, it was such a breath (bite?) of fresh air! Can't wait for my sun golds to ripen so that I can give them a try in this salad. With mozzarella! A great addition.

Polly said...

I love all tomatoey things too and it is a salad season so I'm trying this recipee this coming weekend. I'll let you know how I did, one thing for sure, it won't look as good as the one in your picture!


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