Tuscan RecipesFlavors of Florence
Dominated by Florence, the Tuscan region is known as the fruit and vegetable basket of Italy. Fruity olive oils, prized beef from Chianina cattle and fresh beans find their way into dishes like pasta fagioli, and bistecca, grilled T-bone steak.
Filone, the saltless bread, is the most popular staple. Stale bread is re-purposed into dishes such as ribollita, a hearty soup of bread and vegetables, and panzanella, a salad of bread and tomatoes. Perfect for summer, panzanella with bocconcini turns day-old bread into manna from heaven with the flavors of Firenze.
Wine pairing suggestion: Chianti Classico or a Super Tuscan
The quality of the stale bread (at least one day old), ripe heirloom tomatoes, fruity extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar are the measure of culinary success for this salad. Spare no expense for these ingredients.
Yield 8–10 servings
Make the bread cubes first. Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Brush each side of the bread with the extra virgin olive oil and place on sheet tray. Toast sliced bread lightly, about 3–5 minutes each side. Remove from oven; let cool. Cut into 1-inch cubes (1 loaf of bread should yield about 8–10 cups of cubes); set aside.
Alternatively, pre-heat gas grill to a medium-high temperature. Brush each side of the bread with the extra virgin olive oil and place on grill. Toast sliced bread lightly, about 3–5 minutes each side. Remove from grill; let cool. Cut into 1-inch cubes; set aside.
Make the dressing: In a small bowl, add the vinegar, salt and black pepper. Using a wire whisk, gradually add the olive oil to emulsify the dressing. Add the basil and stir. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, add the tomato wedges, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and let rest for 10 minutes. The salt will start to extract juices from the tomatoes, adding additional flavor to the dressing.
In a separate large mixing bowl, add the cucumbers, red onion, yellow pepper, bocconcini, olives and basil. Add the salted tomatoes and all of their juices. Mix all vegetables gently. Add the toasted bread cubes. Gradually pour the dressing over the bread and vegetables. Mix gently.
Let the panzanella salad rest at room temperature, covered with plastic for at least 1 hour. Gently mix salad just before serving. Give praise for stale bread and enjoy!