Do you subscribe to Cook’s Illustrated? Well if not, you should consider it. I learn so much about food and cooking through this excellent publication. I love the notes from readers, sharing tips and asking questions. The “What Is It?” section is neat, too — they include a sketch of an often antique cooking device and explain its origin and meaning. And the “Quick Tips” section is so useful. In the latest issue I learned a trick for trussing chicken if you’re out of kitchen twine (use a leftover wire champagne cage to twist around the legs!) and a good suggestion for squeezing the liquid out of cooked spinach (place spinach in a colander, then use a glass or metal bowl to press out the liquid). Genius. The recipes are diverse and they provide a ton of background info on why things turn out the way they do. This publication is truly a culinary treasure. There’s also a great online database of all their recipes you can pay to use, and I’ve heard their cookbooks are fab too, though I haven’t used them. If you’re serious about cooking (or getting serious about finally getting serious about cooking), subscribing is a great first step.
In the last issue, there was a great recipe for panzanella salad. This Italian Bread salad is one of my favorites, and a great use for the all the tasty tomatoes available right now. When I bit into my first tomato of the season, I realized I rarely eat tomatoes out of season anymore. The anemic, flavorless supermarket variety just really don’t cut it for me. But back to the salad. Panzanella is a great way to use up stale bread. Seems like every culture has a use for stale bread – the Mexicans have chilaquiles to use up stale tortillas, the French have their toast, and I’m sure there are a million others. I often make croutons with stale bread.
So, to kick off the Panzanella, check out these beauties, straight from the garden. The recipe calls for 1.5 lbs; this is a little under two.
First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Then chop up the bread. I used some white Italian bread and a-touch-past-its-prime whole wheat sandwich bread. Toss it with some olive oil and salt, then spread it out on a baking sheet to toast. I added some whole cloves of garlic as well.
After you chop and seed the tomatoes, you need to let some of that juice drain out. Strain the tomatoes in a colander sprinkled with a bit of salt. I stirred them around a few times to help with this.
Once the tomatoes have drained, mix up the dressing which is a classic vinaigrette plus some tomato liquid. I love using the tomato liquid in this way! Do you all use jars to make your dressing? It’s so much easier than the drizzle and whisk method. You just toss everything in and shake. Granted after a few minutes the dressing will start to separate, but if you add it to your salad right away you’re fine.
Then, mix it all together and voila! Summer on a plate. Make sure you don’t add the toasted bread until right before you’re ready to eat or it’ll get quite soggy.
Any Cook’s Illustrated fans out there? Tell me why you love the mag. And, please share any tips you’ve learned.
Panzanella (Italian Bread Salad)
Yield: 4 servings
Total Time: 30 minutes
(Headnote and recipe from Cook's Illustrated, July 2011) Panzanella recipes benefit from the liquid exuded by the tomatoes, so we tossed them with some salt and let them drain in a colander until they’d shed a good bit of juice. Using that juice in our Italian Bread Salad’s dressing boosted its fresh flavor. Staling the bread in the oven until it turned golden brown gave our Panzanella a nutty flavor and allowed the dressing to lightly saturate the pieces of bread before we stirred in the tomatoes.
6 cups rustic Italian or French bread , cut or torn into 1-inch pieces (1/2 to 1 pound)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
6-8 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled (I added this to the bread as it was toasting)
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, cored, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and sliced thin (I omitted this as I was out, and the salad worked just fine)
1 shallot, sliced thin
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss bread pieces with 2 tablespoons oil, ¼ teaspoon salt and garlic; arrange bread in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Toast bread pieces until just starting to turn light golden, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
2. Gently toss tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt in large bowl. Transfer to colander and set over bowl; set aside to drain for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally.
3. Whisk remaining 6 tablespoons oil, vinegar, and ¼ teaspoon pepper into reserved tomato juices. Add bread pieces, toss to coat, and let stand for 10 minutes, tossing occasionally.
4. Add tomatoes, cucumber, shallot, and basil to bowl with bread pieces and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.
Cook's Illustrated, July 2011