After five days home from Italy I thought to myself, “What I need is a little party with friends, good food, and wine — and it needs to happen only if the stars are aligned just right — nothing formal or planned.”
So I thought, “What better dish to make when you don’t know if you’ll be two or ten?”
— Panzanella Salad!
I sent the message out, “Hey amici! I’m going to make Panzanella Salad and crack some wine! Who’s coming?”
Most of them came running.
Any Panzanella Salad recipe is subject to personal preferences. There are a ton of variations and you can easily find (“google”) a recipe to suit your tastes: one with mozzarella or not, parmigiano reggiano, or maybe chevre? What about capers — or none? Olives? Bell peppers — forse!, bacon or prosciutto? Cucumber? And what about the dressing? And! What about the croutons!? Those are … secondo me! … the most important part of any Panzanella.
So I’ll tell you my method and my favorite combination of ingredients. Do with it what you will!
… But first and foremost: let’s talk about the wine, because you’re going to need something while you go through all the preparation steps. Friday afternoon my 12 bottle shipment of wine that I’d sent home the preceeding Monday arrived: 10 bottles from the Colli Tortonesi DOC (7 bottles of Timorasso, 2 bottles of Croatina and 1 bottle of Barbera)*, and 2 bottles of Barolo (Renato Corino Barolo Vecchie Vigne Riserva 2005 and (Giuliano) Corino Barolo Giachini 2006) and I’d just finished doing inventory on my wine so I picked out a couple of bottles to open.
Orsolani Erbaluce 2009. Erbaluce di Caluso DOC. Erbaluce 100%. This is one of those ever-so-slightly effervescent wines. Gli italiani call it vivace. Tart with star fruit flavors, evolving into pineapple and peaches with pronounced minerals and a touch of white flowers. Light and fresh and still drinkable two days later (but sweeter). And bonus: it comes in a 1L bottle. A great producer and one of Piemonte’s best white grapes! ★
Siro Pacenti Brunello di Montalcino 2003. Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. Sangiovese 100%. I didn’t know if this was going to be overly ripe (because of the vintage) or dead (because of the vintage) or smelly (I find Sangiovese to have that certain puzza like Barbera sometimes: horse stables and saddles) or at worst, inundated by brettanomyces. But it was none of these. At first it was shy but it actually opened up and offered an interesting and elegant aroma and flavor profile. Perfumed with a delicate array of smokey tobacco, cherries, eucalyptus, and cedar. A refined texture: smooth and integrated with a touch of bitter tannins. I’d love to try different vintages of this wine. ★
And the Brunello did go well with the Panzanella Salad!
Mine has the following ingredients:
- sweet french bread/Francese bread/any baguette, cut into large bite-sized pieces
- salted butter
- garlic, chopped finely
- purple onion, sliced thinly and sautéed in olive oil
- prosciutto, lightly sautéed in its own oils
- Romaine lettuce, chopped
- fresh basil, chopped
- cherry tomatoes
- Parmigiano reggiano, shaved
- very good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar
- freshly ground salt and pepper
My trick is to “pan-fry” the bread to obtain the croutons. There is something magical about this; they’re better than the ones made in the oven. You have to use salted butter. Use about 1 Tbsp for every cup or so of bread. Throw the cut-up bread pieces into a frying pan with the butter and turn on the heat to medium-high. Toast in the pan. Watch them; they burn easily. But each side should take about 5-10 minutes, depending on your heat level and type of pan. Add olive oil or butter as you go if they seem to be getting too dry. When the croutons are almost done (getting to a light golden color), throw in the chopped garlic. By the time the garlic finishes cooking and toasts a little, your bread will be perfectly toasted. Transfer croutons & garlic to a large bowl and prepare the rest of the ingredients. Assemble all ingredients (up to the olive oil) together in the bowl in the proportions you prefer. Then add about 2:1 proportions of olive oil to balsamic vinegar until it’s dressed to the level you like. Add salt and pepper; toss & taste until you get it how you like it. Serve with extra black pepper and Parmigiano.
You’ll wonder why you never made this before …
* More on the amazing Piemontese white grape, Timorasso, and the Colli Tortonesi DOC to come! Lots more!