I don’t really go out of my way to eat tons of “salads”. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great and all, and I will make one from time to time. Its just that working in a restaurant 60+ hours a week can have a part to play in how quickly you can get to eating those delicate leafy greens that are sitting in your crisper. There are a few “salads” (I use the term loosely) that I will go out of my way to make for myself just because I am craving them though. Panzanella is probably my favorite of all time.
The first time I had to make a panzanella was when I was working under Chef Rino Baglio, former chef to the princess of Monaco. I remember going over the garde manger station on my first day with the other employee who was training me, trying to take it all in.
Like a lot of food, it really isn’t until you make something yourself that truly learn the ins and outs of how the ingredients interact and should be treated. The most important part is to let the bread sit and be still after tossing with the tomatoes for a few minutes, then tossed again if need be; waiting to serve it until it is soft, but chewy. Panzanella is all over the place now in restaurants, with tons of stuff thrown in it. Variation is great, but just remember to keep the ingredients to a minimum or things start to taste unfocused and busy.
Panzanella just translates to “bread salad”. Looking at the ingredients shows us it’s origin was probably very humble. The base of a bread salad, is stale bread. It’s easy to imagine a family sitting down to eat dinner together a long time ago enjoying something like this.
Purslane has a lot of texture for a salad green. In fact, it has so much texture (as well as a mucilaginous quality), that I would not recommend eating a bowl just purslane. I think of it typically as a nice garnish, or as something to mix in with a number of other components.
Purslane Panzanella Salad
- 2 cups diced bread left out until quite stale
- 12 cherry tomatoes halved
- 1 large heirloom tomato about the size of a grapefruit cut into 1 inch cubes,
- 1 tbsp torn lemon basil or regular sweet basil
- 1 gold or green english cucumber sliced thinly and seasoned lightly with salt and a pinch of sugar
- 2 tbsp virgin sunflower oil
- Red wine vinegar to taste
- Purslane picked in tiny clusters to yield 1/2 cup- or more if you like, since you probably have it everywhere in your yard
- Kosher salt to taste
- Fresh pepper to taste
- 4 oz fresh mozzarella about 3/4 cup cut into 1 inch cubes (Optional)
- Toss the stale bread, tomatoes, vinegar, oil, onions, and mozzarella together
- Season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper
- Wait 5-10 minutes, giving the salad a toss once or twice to distribute the juice, if the salad looks dry and it is not getting a bit soft, add a touch of water or vinegar if it needs more acid
- Lay some cucumbers on a plate, using it as a bed for the salad (You can also just dice them and throw'em in)
- When the salad is seasoned nicely, toss with the purslane and basil or just sprinkle both of them on top, drizzle with some more virgin sunflower or olive oil and serve