Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Recipe: Greek Style Panzanella Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Kalamata Olives, Feta Cheese, and Homemade Croutons

Greek Style Panzanella Salad with cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, feta cheese, and homemade pan-fried croutons - FarmgirlFare.com
This traditional Italian bread salad is given a Greek twist with feta cheese and kalamata olives. Crunchy pan-fried olive oil croutons are hard to resist.

I never understood the appeal of panzanella. Why would anyone toss soggy bread into their beautiful tomato and cucumber salad when they could have it warm and crusty on the side and slathered with butter instead?

I get it now.

What made me finally cross over? Four words: Ina Garten and homemade croutons.

Panzanella is a traditional Italian summer salad that was created as a way to use up leftover or slightly stale bread. The bread absorbs the tomato juices and vinaigrette, freshening it up. I've even seen recipes that called for soaking the pieces of bread in water first, then squeezing them 'dry' and mixing them into the salad.

None of this ever sounded appealing to me.

But chunky homemade croutons that have been coated with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, and pan-fried to perfection? Now that caught my attention. Toss in some feta cheese and kalamata olives and I was sold.

At the age of 43, I finally made my first batch of panzanella. And now I can't stop eating the stuff.

Recipe below. . .
Turning your cubes of bread into croutons not only makes them nice and crunchy, but it also adds a whole extra level of toasted, olive-oil permeated flavor.

This means that the next morning, when you're eyeing the dish of leftover panzanella in the fridge and thinking that raw onions for breakfast actually don't sound half bad, even the now soggy croutons still taste really good.

Day old bread makes excellent croutons, but of course you can also use fresh bread. Either way, you want a rustic loaf that has a dense and sturdy crumb. I've been using the flavorful, free form loaves I like to make with our homebrewed beer, a really simple recipe that's been (along with so many others!) on  You Really Need To Blog About This Soon list for months.

What's really great is that you don't have to turn on the oven to make the croutons. A cast iron skillet is one of the most useful, bargain priced kitchen tools you can own and is perfect for making croutons—and just about everything else. Treat yours well and it will last for decades.

If, like me, you have no self control when it comes to fried bread tend to sample while you cook, you may need want to double the amount of croutons so enough of them actually make it into the salad.

This recipe comes from Ina Garten's most recent cookbook, Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That? Fabulous Recipes & Easy Tips, which I've really been enjoying. I checked it out from the library last winter, bookmarked over 50 recipes I wanted to try, and quickly bought myself a copy.

This was fortuitous, since a couple of days later our newly arrived beagle pup Bert chewed up the corner of the library book (you can read the story of how Bert joined our farm family here). We swapped copies.

It's an inspiring and beautiful cookbook that makes me want to ignore everything else on the farm and barricade myself in the kitchen for a couple of weeks. A few days ago I made the Easy Provencal Leg of Lamb and it was fabulous.

Greek Style Panzanella Salad with cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, feta cheese, and homemade pan-fried croutons - FarmgirlFare.com (2)

Greek Style Panzanella with Cherry Tomatoes and Homemade Croutons
Serves 2 to 4 — Adapted from Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That?


The nice thing about using cherry tomatoes in panzanella is that they don't produce a whole lot of juice, allowing the croutons to keep their crunch for a while. If you want to mix up the salad a few hours ahead of time, wait to add the croutons. Lately I've been sprinkling the croutons on top, just before serving.

This Greek style version is Ina's twist on the traditional panzanella recipe that appears in her earlier book, Barefoot Contessa Parties! The first time I made it, I tried to precisely follow all of her cutting instructions: dice this, slice that into half-rounds, etc. The next time I simply chopped everything into pieces approximately the same size—which was fairly small since the cherry tomatoes in my kitchen garden this year are tiny—and it came out great.

I also played with the amounts, adding more cherry tomatoes and onion and using less dressing. I made the vinaigrette with fresh Greek oregano from my kitchen garden rather than dried (oregano is easy to grow in pots and so worth it), but it also tastes fine without any oregano.

As always, I urge you to seek out local and organic ingredients, as they really do make a difference. This is not a salad you should make in the middle of winter.

Orange or yellow tomatoes or peppers add pretty splashes of color. Cans of organic garbanzo beans are one of my favorite farmhouse pantry staples and fit in perfectly here.

Ingredients:
For the croutons:
2 to 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups diced rustic bread
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:
1½ cups diced cucumber (about 8 ounces)
1¼ cups diced bell or other sweet red, yellow, or orange pepper (1 large or about 5 ounces)
3 cups cherry tomatoes, halved (14 to 16 ounces)
1 cup diced red onion (about 4½ ounces)
4 ounces diced feta cheese (not crumbled)
1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives (about 2 ounces, roughly chopped if large)
1 cup organic canned garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed (optional)

For the vinaigrette:
2 Tablespoons good red wine vinegar
1 T. kalamata olive brine (optional)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons chopped fresh Greek oregano (or 3/4 teaspoon dried), optional
1/2 teaspoon salt
Several grinds of black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions:
Heat 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet, preferably cast iron, until hot. Add the bread, toss in the oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle the bread with another Tablespoon of olive oil if some of the pieces seem dry.

Cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, until nicely browned, about 5 to 10 minutes. Resist the urge to turn up the heat and cook the croutons faster, as they burn easily. Set aside.

For the vinaigrette, place the red wine vinegar, olive brine (if using), garlic, Dijon mustard, oregano, salt, and pepper in a small bowl and whisk together. Whisking constantly, slowly add the 1/4 cup of olive oil to make an emulsion. (Or just put everything in a glass measuring cup and stir it with a fork, or shake it all up in a lidded jar.)

Place the cucumber, sweet pepper, tomatoes, and red onion in a large bowl and toss together. Add the feta, olives, garbanzo beans (if using), and croutons to the bowl, then lightly toss everything with the vinaigrette. (Or wait to add the croutons until serving, if desired.)

Let sit for 30 minutes at room temperature to allow the flavors to develop. Season to taste and serve.
More flavorful twists on panzanella from other food bloggers:

Still hungry? You'll find links to all my sweet and savory Less Fuss, More Flavor recipes in the Farmgirl Fare Recipe Index.

© FarmgirlFare.com, where happiness is freshly picked tomatoes, cute animals, and homemade pan-fried anything. And chocolate.

13 comments:

  1. Oh my gosh...seriously, my mouth is watering. LOVE panzanella, LOVE Greek salads (I think I could live off of them). What a great idea to combine them. Thank you!

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  2. Definitely sounds good to me!

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  3. That sure does look good! I could see eating leftovers for breakfast! :)

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  4. Wow this salad looks great! I've never tried panzanella...guess it's time to. :)

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  5. Wow! Such a beautiful dish! Can't wait to try it. Thanks!

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  6. I had never made panzanella, either, mostly because no one else in my house eats bread. So when I offered to bring something to a party and realized I had not enough tomatoes to make a straight tomato salad, but DID have some slightly stale bread that could stretch the tomatoes, I made panzanella (a similar recipe to yours, except a very Italian one, not Greek). I was so excited to try it, and then the food didn't end up being put out until seven that night, which is when I had to leave to put my little dictator to bed. By the time I returned to the party, the panzanella was all gone. Everyone told me how good it was, but I'll never know. Very, very sad.

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  7. Wow! I just happened to be scanning my Google Reader and found your recipe last night. Turns out I had all the ingredients at hand to make this amazing dish, including fresh produce from the garden: onions, garlic, oregano, cucumber and 5 different varieties of heirloom cherry tomatoes! I also had a bunch of fresh cinnamon basil growing out back that made a nice addition. Nothing compares to a home grown meal. This was one of the most delicious meals I've had in a very long time!! And my housemates raved about it, too :)

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  8. Yummm. I love panzanella. Happy to see we have another convert!

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  9. so glad to find this recipe...second planting of summer tomatoes will be ready in a few weeks... :)

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  10. I made this a couple of nights ago. It was absolutely fantastic!!!!!!! Thank you so much! This will definitely make it into my recipe box!

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  11. So, I finally got around to making this dish and it was tasty, but the red wine vinegar I used was NOT very good. Is there a particular brand you suggest? It makes a huge difference!

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  12. Hi Elaina,
    I just got into red wine vinegar recently (I've been a dedicated balsamic vinegar lover for ages) so I haven't tried too many brands. I do like Trader Joe's red wine vinegar, which is inexpensive. The nice thing about vinegar is that a bottle usually lasts quite a while, so spending a few dollars more for some really nice stuff is a tasty, but not a huge, investment. :)

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