‘Tis the Season: Heirloom Tomato Panzanella
I love tomato season. As in really really love. And the funkier the color and the shape, the better. I was daydreaming yesterday about the most beautiful tomatoes I’ve ever seen (much less tasted) – in a lovely garden in the French countryside. It was two years ago, and I had the privilege of interviewing Prince Louis Albert de Broglie at his incredible chateau in the Loire Valley. He’s a passionate gardener, but favorite thing in the world to grow is tomatoes. He loves this fruit so much that he grows an incredible 650 varieties in his garden, in every shape, size, and color imaginable. He has a Tomato Festival every year in early September (which I attended in 2012) and the entire village comes out to eat tomato-themed dishes, drink fresh juices and tomato cocktails, and wander through the gardens. Needless to say, being there is like stepping into the pages of a fairy tale and I cannot wait to go back. (Read more about the Tomato Prince here.)
Though the simple Caprese salad will always hold a special place in my heart, these days I’m really into panzanella. One of the best things about eating a tomato salad – in my opinion – is sopping up the juices with some good crusty bread (sorry Paleo peeps!), and panzanella essentially does just that, in the form of large, homemade croutons that are tossed in with the salad. The combination of ripe tomatoes, red wine vinegar-soaked shallots, torn basil, buffalo mozzarella, extra-virgin olive oil, and good, chewy bread is simply out of this world. I made this last night for a simple rooftop supper, as I had a few heirloom tomatoes and half a loaf of country white bread from our Quinciple delivery, and it was every bit as delicious as I’d hoped. Keep in mind though – a simple salad like this is only as good as the quality of the ingredients, so buy your tomatoes from a farmer’s market if at all possible. (Or if you grow your own – even better!).
In case you love heirloom tomatoes as much as me, here are a few more recipes: Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho (with mango and cucumber), Heirloom Tomato Tarts (or Breakfast Casserole), or Tomato, Mozzarella, Prosciutto Paninis. What’s your favorite way to enjoy heirloom tomatoes?
Photos by Brandon Carl
HEIRLOOM TOMATO PANZANELLA
This salad was originally created to use up stale bread. You can simply toss in day-old bread chunks, but I like to saute them in a little olive oil to give some extra flavor and crunch.
1/2 loaf day-old country white or sourdough bread
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 shallot, thinly sliced into half-moons
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 pounds heirloom tomatoes (about 3 large and 10-15 cherry tomatoes)
1/4 cup torn basil leaves, plus more for garnish
4 ounce ball of buffalo mozzarella, torn into bite-size pieces
Cut off the crust from the bread and cut into 1-inch cubes. You should have about 3 cups. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the bread and cook, stirring frequently, until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and dump the bread cubes onto a baking sheet to cool. (Alternately, you can toast these in a 325 F oven for 10 minutes or so.)
Place the sliced shallots in a small bowl and cover with 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar. Let sit while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
Core the large tomatoes and cut into roughly 1-inch chunks. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half, and place all of the tomatoes in a large bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining tablespoonful of red wine vinegar with 3 tablespoonfuls of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Scatter the shallots and basil over the tomatoes and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Using your hands, toss gently. Add the bread cubes and gently toss with your hands. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Place half of the tomato mixture on a platter, scatter with half of the mozzarella, add the remaining tomato mixture and the remaining mozzarella. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with additional torn basil. Serve immediately as the bread will get soggy.