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Panzanella

September 20, 2011
By Wendy Monro , The Journal

We spent the morning at the local farmers market. It was an absolutely beautiful day, bright and sunny with a subtle chill in the air. Ahhh, fall weather. I love walking around all of the tables filled with fruits and vegetables. There were so many amazing colors and smells. It feels good knowing I am buying local organic fruits and vegetables for my family and friends to eat.

I tasted a pineapple watermelon. I know, right? What the heck is that? Well, it was a watermelon with a bright yellow center. It tasted so sweet and juicy. The weirdest thing I saw and tasted was flavored popcorn chilled with nitrous oxide. The popcorn was cold and you could breathe out smoke like puffs, which was fun. However, the popcorn just disappeared on your tongue and was sort of like eating a packing peanut. I'll stick with hot popcorn or even room temperature for that matter.

We left the market with our arms loaded up with goodies. I bought zucchini, heirloom tomatoes, red, orange and yellow peppers, eggplant, onions (red and yellow), endive, arugula, celery root, beet root, carrots, and some homemade soap. I was so excited to go home and decide what to make with all of these tasty supplies. Of course, I would not be cooking or eating the soap. As evening approached, I still had not come up with an idea. Maybe my huge variety of vegetables was throwing me off.

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Submitted Photo

The vegetables used to prepare the dish.

I finally looked over at Claud and asked him what I should make. We were watching "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". What a blast from the past! I remember wanting to be Ferris' girlfriend, Sloane, the first time I watched that film in 1986. I loved her fringe jacket, her boots, her hair and the way she talked. Ferris was so clever and gutsy and sexy. So, I was really enjoying watching the movie again, but I had my dinner plans in the back of my mind. Claud looked over at me and said, "Panzanella," like it was a no brainer. He is a lot like Ferris Bueller: handsome, smart, charming, witty, a little bit naughty and quirky.

Okay, here we go again...he is always throwing out recipes I have never heard about. Once the movie finished, I went to my computer and Googled it. Panzanella is a Mediterranean salad. Some refer to it as an Italian bread salad. It dates back to Florentine in the 1500s. There was a poem written by a famous poet and painter, Agnolo di Cosimo Tori. He is better known as il Bronzino. In this poem, Bronzino describes the mixing together of onions with vinegar. The salad was created as a way to utilize old bread and garden vegetables. This Tuscan salad used to be made with bread soaked in pure seawater. Over the years, the recipe has evolved. Now, it uses tomatoes (which weren't in Italy at the time of Bronzino's poem). It is a great recipe to avoid wasting any bread or vegetables. At the same time, it is absolutely delicious. Generally, this salad is made in the summer. However, I think it is perfect for fall because the bread makes it more hearty and filling for a nice cool weather salad.

Once again, Claud taught me something new and amazing. He even came into the kitchen with me and showed me how to put it all together. We didn't have stale Italian bread. I used regular white bread. I made mine "crusty" and "stale" by drizzling it with olive oil and baking it for fifteen minutes in the oven. I am listing the ingredients I used here for the salad; but, you could substitute any vegetables and lettuces you might have on hand. It is pretty much a free for all. You could make the vegetable part a day ahead of time and keep it refrigerated (while weighed down) and add the bread to it just before you are ready to serve it. The bread soaks up the juices from the pressed vegetables and holds in all of those flavors. You won't believe how fantastic this tastes. I added a vinaigrette dressing and put it on top of the salad, which was really tasty. The next day, I ate some of the leftovers without the dressing for breakfast and it was delicious. Then, I poured some of it into a wheat wrap with hummus and made it into a vegetable wrap sandwich for lunch. That was also fantastic.

Fact Box

Panzanella

Time: 1 1/2 hours

Serves: 6

6 slices white bread

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 red onion, diced

2 tomatoes, diced

1/2 yellow pepper, diced

1/2 red pepper, diced

1 zucchini, sliced

1 head of endive, sliced

6 cornichons, minced (or 1 tablespoon capers)

1 teaspoon mint, chopped

1 16 oz can garbanzo beans

1 tablespoon Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the bread into cubes and drizzle olive oil over it. Place in the oven for fifteen minutes. Take out and set aside. Combine all of the vegetables, the mint, and the garbanzo beans, in a large bowl. Add the salt and mix well. Place something heavy on top. I used a stack of plates. Place in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Take out and mix in the bread. Top with vinaigrette dressing if you wish.

Claud added a hint of mint to the recipe at the last second and this really made a difference. The first time I tasted the salad, I was amazed at how good this simple idea tasted. I looked over at Claud and felt like Sloan when she kissed Ferris goodbye at the end of the movie and said, "he's gonna marry me!" only better because he already did! I wonder if Ferris could cook like Claud? Probably not. I'm really lucky. I just need to go out and find that fringy jacket and those suede boots. Naahh...I don't need those. I've got everything I need.

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