Monday, April 28, 2008

salads that are not good for you: panzanella

When I was a kid, my dad occasionally took us to Ponderosa for cheap steak and the all-you-can-eat salad bar. My salads always consisted of the same thing - a bit of lettuce, chopped up hard-boiled egg, cheddar cheese, Italian dressing, and a whole load of croutons. I don't know why my mother let me eat that. It wasn't that I didn't eat other vegetables as a kid, I definitely did, but I guess those were the items that my parents never put on salads at home, so it was a treat to me. And those croutons. So simple, so crunchy, so carby. To this day, salads are still often just a base for pouring croutons on. So the idea of a salad that is essentially all about the crouton is like finding someone who finally gets me. It's that classic Tuscan bread salad - Panzanella.

Brilliant in its simplicity, Panzanella is one of those great innovations clearly meant to use up leftover bread, but is so good that I'll deliberately leave out a fresh loaf to get a little stale. "Oh no, this bread got all stale, what am I going to do with it now? I guess I'll just have to make Panzanella." Recipe after the jump:
1 3/4 lb loaf of day-old, whole grain bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 5 cups)
3 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 medium cucumbers, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 medium red onion, sliced thinly in half moons
10 leaves fresh basil, shredded

For the dressing:
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 tsp dry oregano
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet and allow to toast in the oven for about 10 minutes until they have just begun to crisp on the outside. Remove bread from oven and set aside to cool while you assemble the rest of the salad. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the salad ingredients. Mix the dressing, pour over and toss. Allow the bread cubes to soak up the dressing for a few minutes before serving.


gingoy said...

I'm also big into croutons. Do you think it's because of Ponderosa? We should do a traditional spinach salad with lots of bacon and real croutons. I bet we could make it reasonably unhealthy.

faycat said...

If we use that extra fatty thick cut Berkshire bacon that I'm currently obsessing about, yes, I think it could be considered unhealthy. And I think spinach salads usually have some sort of creamy dressing, maybe a blue cheese.

faycat said...

Oh, and I think Ponderosa not only got me hooked on croutons, but on A-1 Steak Sauce. Those steaks weren't edible without the A-1, but now sometimes I just want to cook a steak so that I have an excuse for the sauce.

gingoy said...

I also thought that you just throw in some bacon bits and ranch, but Alton Brown opened my eyes to the true rendered-fat-dripping nature of this "American Classic", and I've been meaning to make it ever since I first saw the episode:

Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown, 2007
Show: Good Eats
Episode: American Classic I: Spinach Salad

8 ounces young spinach
2 large eggs
8 pieces thick-sliced bacon, chopped
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large white mushrooms, sliced
3 ounces red onion (1 small), very thinly sliced

Remove the stems from the spinach and wash, drain and pat dry thoroughly. Place into a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Place the eggs into an electric kettle and cover with cold water by at least 1-inch. Turn the kettle on. Once the water comes to a boil, the kettle will turn itself off. Leave the eggs in the water for 15 minutes. Remove and peel off the shell. Slice each egg into 8 pieces and set aside.

While the eggs are cooking, fry the bacon and remove to a paper towel to drain, reserving 3 tablespoons of the rendered fat. Crumble the bacon and set aside.

Transfer the fat to a small saucepan set over low heat and whisk in the red wine vinegar, sugar and Dijon mustard. Season with a small pinch each of kosher salt and black pepper.

Add the mushrooms and the sliced onion to the spinach and toss. Add the dressing and bacon and toss to combine. Divide the spinach between 4 plates or bowls and evenly divide the egg among them. Season with pepper, as desired. Serve immediately.

Leah said...

Hi guys! me and sissy used to go to Ponderosa too. Man, I loved that place. Why exactly, I'll never know. I think I always had that self-same salad, but also a ton of "ambrosia" on the side. And the Ponderosa steaks got me all ready to LOVE the crappy steaks at college. I was the ONLY ONE who ate them.

Where do you get the Berkshire bacon? I like Applegate farms organic Sunday Bacon, but I also dig the sound of "extra fatty thick cut." That spinach salad sounds incredible. Rendered Fat Dressing!!!!

faycat said...

You know how I feel about rendered fat. I've been stockpiling a jar for months. It is manna.

I get the Berkshire bacon either from Fresh Direct or sometimes I find it at Balducci's.