Another summer, another overzealous tomato plant inventory. You may remember two years ago when I had one dozen tomato plants that took up significant portions of my afternoons to prune, that I harvested by the stolen-grocery-basket-full? I told myself that this year I would be more reasonable. “Cut it down to 6” I said, “don’t leave yourself with 25 extra tomatoes a week to jar for summers-end marinara” I said. But what did I do? I walked RIGHT INTO THAT BURNING RING OF FIRE and went to a local plant sale where I discovered that they were selling their tomato plants for $1, and walked out $15 poorer. Then I went to the local nursery on mothers day and got four more because LORD JESUS FORBID I not experience the fabled Rutgers 250 this year. Then my greenhouse finally successfully sprouted the seeds I’d planted back in March. And here I am now with 24 thriving tomato plants, just as many grow bags, and a trunk with over 300lbs of dirt in it because why be reasonable when you can be HELLA WHO IS SHE EXTRA?
Contingency plans being necessary, I’ve got a few knocking around in my noggin-piece. I think I’d like to try a jarred gazpacho, a consommé for delicate fish or light vegetable dishes, and a charred tomato vinaigrette as a marketing treat. Until then I’ll be making panzanella; sweet, filling, forgiving, long-lasting panzanella.
Developed as a way to use up stale bread, the Italians bore what every cultures best dishes spring from: utilitarianism. As someone who openly declares that gluten is bae, I both make the effort to buy fresh, unsliced bread while also worrying that I won’t be able to get through it before it goes stale (that is, without turning my hedonist level up to 11).
The end game is to toss together a bunch of different things that macerate to form a delicious juice for that dry-ass bread to soak up and get happy again, i.e. panzanella for bread is rosé for the rest of us. Because it’s tomatoes, it’s more flavorful at ambient temperature than cold, and because it’s better the longer it sits, it can hang out covered on the counter until you’re damn well ready for it, even overnight. I can promise you it will be coming with me to everything I’m invited to this summer (ahem, hostesses), but I can’t promise I didn’t get a little high on my own stash on the way over.
20 oz cherry tomatoes
1 small red onion
2 cloves garlic
1c loosely packed basil
1 loaf stale white bread (not sourdough)
7T olive oil, 4T for the dressing, 3T for the bread.
2T white balsamic vinegar
2 balls burrata (optional)
1. Slice the tomatoes in half and toss them into a large mixing bowl. If you'd like to add a depth of flavor, toss 1/4 of the tomatoes in a tiny bit of olive oil and broil them on a sheet tray for about 7 minutes until they've burst and developed some char on their skin.
2. Skin and slice the red onion in half from root to tip. Cut off the root end enough to remove any root structure, leaving some of the solid bulb. Continue to slice the onion into very thin, crescent shaped segments from root end to tip end. They should fan out a bit, but if you slice too much of the root end off it's no big deal, just throw them on top of the tomatoes.
3. Skin the garlic and either mince it or slice it very thinly with a knife, mandolin, or Goodfellas style razor blade (the most legit), adding them to the bowl.
4. Sprinkle the contents of the bowl with salt and pepper, dress with olive oil and white balsamic, toss until evenly coated and mixed, and leave to macerate.
5. Slice the bread into 1" thick slices while preheating a grill or griddle pan (a sautee pan will do well too, it just might take longer to batch out). Brush the slices with olive oil on each side and grill them until they're fairly well charred -- this both dries them out to soak up more juice and adds a depth of flavor.
6. Once the bread is cool enough, slice it into 1" cubes. Throw the cubes in with the tomatoes, onion and garlic and toss to coat, leaving it to soak for 20 minutes.
7. Toss once more and dump the contents of the bowl onto a platter large enough to contain everything in a relatively shallow layer, which will allow any pooling juices to be evenly soaked up by the bread.
8. It's best to leave this on the counter for an hour or so to really meld together, but needing to eat it immediately is understandable and forgiven. Nestle the burrata balls into the salad and top with basil, sprinkling the small leaves and tearing up the big ones.