Monday, August 1, 2011

Back Again: Tomato Bread Salad ala David Tanis

After a few months off to finish my upcoming book, Peaceful Places Boston: 121 Tranquil Places in the City and Beyond, I'm back to writing this blog at the perfect time: just as the height of the summer's bounty begins to appear in farmers' markets and farm stands.

Hallelujah for corn, new baby potatoes, eggplant, peppers, and of course, tomatoes!

I've been making bread salads for years now. My long-time, go-to recipe is the Panzanella: Bread and Vegetable Salad with Anchovies in The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan, which unfortunately, now seems to be out of print.

Recently, I've also enjoyed Judy Rodgers version, Tomato Summer Pudding from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. But I'm always looking for new slants on this salad and interesting techniques--so when I found a recipe for Layered Tomato Bread Salad, in David Tanis' Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys, I was eager to experiment.

Part of what intrigued me was the complexity of the vinaigrette for the salad--complexity of flavor, by the way, not of preparation.
You macerate a minced shallot in red wine vinegar for five minutes, then add a garlic paste, made by smashing garlic cloves and a little salt with a mortar and pestle, then drizzle in some olive oil to make your vinaigrette.

Next, you add some chopped anchovies, capers, and olives to make a chunky dressing that you pour over the cubed tomatoes and sliced cucumbers--and let the pungent flavors meld.

Heirloom tomatoes have just come into the Seacoast Growers' market in Portsmouth. Robin and Dave were able to buy a ripe and colorful selection through our CSA at Meadow's Mirth Farm. We also bought some country-style bread at Beach Pea Bakery in Kittery. Of course, as it was just fresh baked, it was not the day-old bread we needed, so to dry it, we sliced it and left it out overnight, in preparation for grilling it the next day. (The point of this salad is to have some bread pieces be really crispy, while others soften by soaking in the salad juices.)
Because this salad was to be our contribution to a cookout, we made everything ahead of time and transported the vegetables and dressing separately. Our host was happy to grill the bread prior to making dinner, so we could have the completed salad on the table when the rest of the food was ready. Needless to say, it was a big hit!

Layered Tomato and Bread Salad
From Heart of the Artichoke And Other Kitchen Journeys by David Tanis

12 slices day-old country bread, such as pain au levain
1/2 c olive oil, plus more for brushing
3 garlic cloves for swiping the bread
1 shallot, minced
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
6 anchovy fillets, coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp capers, rinsed and roughly chopped
1/2 cup Nicoise olives, pitted and roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
6 ripe large tomatoes, roughly cubed
1 small cucumber, peeled and sliced
A generous handful of basil leaves, roughly chopped
A generous handful for serving, if desired

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Paint the bread generously with olive oil on both sides and place it on a baking sheet. Bake until the slices are crisp and golden, about 10 minutes, turning them halfway through. (Or toast the oil-painted bread on a grill.) Let the bread cool, and swipe each slice with a garlic clove. Break each slice into 2 or 3 pieces. Set aside.

2. To make the vinaigrette, macerate the shallot in the vinegar for 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic paste and add the 1/2 cup olive oil. Add the anchovies, capers, and olives and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Put the tomato cubes and cucumber slices in a medium bowl and season well with salt and pepper. Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables.

4. Assemble the salad on a deep platter or in a low, wide bowl. Layer half the bread slices on the platter or in the bowl and spoon over half of the tomato/cucumber mixture. Lay over the rest of the bread and top with the remaining tomatoes. Cover with a clean towel and let sit for about an hour at cool room temperature.

5. Just before serving, gently press down the salad with your hands to distribute the juices. Sprinkle generously with the basil and parsley. Spoon the salad onto plates lined with crisp lettuce leaves.