There’s something truly extraordinary that happens when you give a very good loaf of quality bread the salad treatment.
The first time I made my boyfriend a bread salad (sometimes called panzanella,) he reacted as if I had unlocked some secret portal where a bowl filled primarily with toasty, olive oil-y hunks of bread turns into a virtuous meal. “So it’s a salad….but it’s bread?” Well….yes. A “healthy” meal, it is not, but there’s something truly extraordinary that happens when you give a very good loaf of quality bread the salad treatment.
You start by slathering chunks of bread in olive oil and broiling it or grilling it until it takes on a deep golden hue and perfect crispiness. That gets tossed together with a tangy vinaigrette, plump raisins, toasted pine nuts, lightly cooked aromatics, and a handful of fresh, vibrant greens. The resulting dish is a symphony of textures flavors that satisfies in every way.
This recipe comes from Judy Rodgers (by way of Signature Dishes That Matter) of the famed San Francisco institution, Zuni Cafe, where it’s served with their unrivaled roast chicken. Adding in a spoonful of quality chicken stock at the end is essential for giving this salad the schmaltzy richness it's known for.
What you'll need:
Generous 8 oz. slightly stale open-crumbed, chewy, peasant-style bread
6-8 tablespoons mild-tasting olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons champagne or white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoons currants (I used golden raisins, which were a perfectly delicious substitute)
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon warm water
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 garlic cloves, slivered
¼ cup slivered scallions, including a little of the green part
2 tablespoons chicken stock or lightly salted water
A few handfuls of greens (I used arugula and frisee)
Preheat the broiler (or grill.) Cut the bread into a couple of large chunks. Carve off all of the bottom crust and most of the top and side crust (you can save those to make croutons later!) Brush the bread all over with olive oil. Broil (or grill) very briefly to crisp and lightly color the surface. Turn the bread chunks over and crisp the other side. Trim off any badly charred tips, then tear the chunks into a combination of irregular 2 to 3-inch wads, bite-sized bits, and fat crumb. You should get about 4 cups.
Here's the bread I used, baked fresh by Thomas Cook (on our finance team!)
Combine about ¼ cup of the olive oil with the champagne or white wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss about ¼ cup of thistart vinaigrette with the torn bread in a wide salad bowl (Weeknight Serving Bowl will do the trick!) Taste one of the saturated pieces. If it’s bland, add a little salt and pepper and toss again.
Place the currants (or raisins) in a small bowl and moisten with the red wine vinegar and warm water. Set aside.
Place the pine nuts in a small baking dish and warm in a hot oven for a minute or two, just to warm through. Add them to the bowl of bread.
Place a spoonful of the olive oil in a small skillet, add the garlic and scallions, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until softened. Don’t let them color. Scrape into the bread and fold to combine. Drain the plumped currants and fold in. Dribble the chicken stock or lightly salted water over the salad and fold again. Taste a few pieces of bread—a fairly saturated one and a dryish one. If it is bland, add salt, pepper, and/or a few drops of vinegar, then toss well. Since the basic character of the bread salad depends on the bread you use, these adjustments can be essential.
Warm the bread salad in a low oven until it gets steamy-hot. You’re looking for a mixture of soft, moist wads, crispy-on-the-outside-but-moist-in-the-middle-wads, and a few downright crispy ones. Add the greens, a drizzle of vinaigrette, and fold well. Serve on a warm platter.