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Eat this! Panzanella: Ripe tomatoes turn stale bread into manna


Carlucci panzanella

Carlucci’s panzanella

Kevin Provenzano

Kevin Provenzano

What it is: A simple salad of juicy, ripe tomatoes, cubed leftover bread and a few vegetables and herbs. The juices from the fresh tomatoes soak into the bread, infusing them with delicious summer flavor.

“This salad is a great and simple way to utilize those tomatoes from your garden or some leftover bread,” says Chef Kevin Provenzano of Carlucci in Downers Grove.

Where it comes from: A historic waste-not-want-not tradition from Tuscany, bread salads go back at least to the 14th century, when Florentine artist Il Bronzino mentions them in his poem, “Rime alla cipolla.” His version, being prior to the discovery of the New World, would not have included the fresh tomatoes that make the salad so appealing today.

What to do with it: Serve hearty panzanella as a prelude to a simple supper of meat or fish, or as a light meal. Do not attempt to make this salad with inferior tomatoes — use the ripest, juiciest tomatoes you can find.

Carlucci’s panzanella
Italian bread and tomato salad
Chef Kevin Provenzano

4 cups bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (day-old Italian or French bread works best)
About 1-1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
1/2 cucumber, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/3 cup chopped black olives
10 large basil leaves, stacked and sliced thin
1-1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano (or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus extra for topping
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Toss everything in a bowl and let marinate at room temperature for at least 1 hour. When ready to serve, toss lightly and check the seasoning.

Divide into 6 bowls and drizzle a little extra-virgin olive oil on top. 6 servings.

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