After last week’s disappointing attempt at a no-cook dinner, I was determined that this week would be a better showing. So I did a bit of research, looked at my list of no-cook ingredients, talked to some friends, and decided to go the Italian route.
I got the idea for making no-cook bread salad after I was whining about last week’s middling salmon sandwiches on Facebook. An old friend from college suggested making panzanella, the Italian bread salad traditionally made with tomatoes, basil, onions, and day-old Tuscan bread. A little research revealed that the composition of “panzanella” is a subject of some controversy – some purists believe true panzanella can only be made with certain traditional ingredients, while food magazines apply the term to whatever bread salad the test kitchen has come up with that day.
Given this controversy, I’ll just say that I’ll made a bread salad, and leave it at that.
I decided to keep my salad relatively simple, using stale bread, tomatoes, basil, onions, and a red wine and mustard vinaigrette. My one bit of culinary extravagance is that I baked the bread myself (recipe here), but only because the Safeway on Columbia road is undergoing renovations and was out of almost everything, including fresh bread. To round out the meal, I served my bread salad with some antipasto – in this case, Sopressata and mozzarella cheese topped with basil, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Before this week I had never actually had bread salad before, but now I want to add it to my regular dinner roster. The stuff is addicting. Soaked in the vinaigrette, the bread becomes soft and chewy, but without entirely losing its texture. The tomatoes and onions provide a crisp textural contrast, and the peppery bite of the onions and the acidity of the vinegar marry perfectly with the sweetness of the tomatoes and basil. And best of all, I didn’t turn on my oven once.
A couple of notes: I made this with grape tomatoes because those are usually the best the Safeway has to offer, but regular tomatoes would work perfectly well if you can actually find good ones. If you want to be more traditional you can soak the bread in water for ten minutes and squeeze it out before adding it to the salad, but this seemed like too much of a hassle for me. Traditionalists may disagree, but I actually liked that the bread wasn’t entirely mushy and added some crunch to the salad. And please forgive the imprecise nature of the recipe below, but this is the sort of dish that probably evolved to use up leftovers and, I believe, was meant to be improvisational in nature.
Italian Bread Salad
One small loaf country-style bread or any artisan bread, cut or torn into cubes and left to dry out for eight hours
One pint grape tomatoes
One handful basil leaves, chopped
One half red onion, finely chopped
1/4 red wine vinegar (or more or less, to taste)
1/3 cup olive oil (or more or less, to taste)
2 tsp mustard (or more or less, to taste)
Salt and pepper (to taste)
In a large bowl, combine the bread, tomatoes, basil, and onions. In a small bowl, mix together the red wine vinegar, olive oil, mustard, salt, and pepper, until emulsified. Pour dressing on bread salad and to mix until everything is coated in the dressing. Let sit for at least half an hour minimum to absorb the flavors – although it will taste even better if you can let it sit for three or four hours at room temperature. Serve with antipasti, such as cured meats, Italian cheeses, or olives.