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I’ve had Tuscany on my mind quite a bit lately! I’m dreaming of meandering through vineyards in Chianti, hunting truffles in the forests, sipping red wine in ancient cellars, and, of course, eating all kinds of traditional Tuscan delicacies.
Like all Italian cuisines, Tuscan food uses fresh, simple, and seasonal ingredients. Dishes are often easy to prepare and are usually hearty and full of flavor.
The regional bread in Tuscany is white and unsalted. Making unsalted loaves is a tradition that dates back to the 16th century when there was a tax put on salt.
One of the distinct features of unsalted bread is that it goes stale quite quickly, which is probably why Tuscan cuisine offers so many tasty recipes utilizing day-old bread - like this yummy Panzanella Salad.
Of course, it is at its best when tomatoes are at their peak of ripeness. But it also makes a good winter salad, with the bread and vinegar giving the less-than-perfect hothouse tomatoes a needed boost.
So give this tasty salad a try! It is quite satisfying, yet bright and full of fresh flavors. And don't be afraid to try out different flavor combinations, either. Throw in some olives, different kinds of cheeses, whatever herbs you have around, or even a handful of salad greens - it's sure to be delicious!
This is one of my variations with kalamata olives and a generous sprinkling of feta. Yumm!
Handful of fresh basil, torn into small pieces or thinly sliced into ribbons
Optional extras as desired - crumbly cheese, olives, capers, cucumbers, bell peppers, salad greens, etc.
Cut or tear the bread into bite size chunks. (see note)
In a large bowl, combine the bread with the tomatoes and their reserved liquid, and the red onion.
Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the vinegar over everything, and gently toss to distribute. Drizzle on the olive oil, and salt and black pepper to taste, and gently toss again. Give it a taste, and add another tablespoon of vinegar, and additional salt and black pepper, if desired.
Gently toss in the fresh basil, along with any additional extras that you like.
Allow the salad to rest for at least 30 minutes before serving, so the bread can absorb all those tasty flavors!
Ideally, Panzanella would be made with the aforementioned unsalted, Tuscan bread. Unfortunately, unsalted bread can be quite difficult to come by for most of us, so a good substitute is a hardy country loaf. If you choose a bread that is too flimsy, it will turn into mush before you get it to the table (not so yummy).
Be sure to let your loaf of bread dry for a day or two before making the salad. If you are in a rush, cut the loaf into slices, and allow to dry in a warm place for a few hours.
Many recipes call for toasting the bread in the oven to ensure it doesn’t go soggy in the salad. Although toasting the bread isn’t traditional, it is a tasty option (and one that I happen to like). If you are concerned that your bread is too soft, after you cut or tear it into pieces, toast it in a 400°F oven until just beginning to crisp and brown. Keep an eye on things though – you don’t want to make crispy, hard croutons.
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