Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Panzanella with Sardines

I'll tell you how well the panzanella/experiment in liking sardines went. I nearly didn't get a shot of the dish before we cleaned our plates, that's how well it went.

I had a lot of fun putting this bread and tomato salad together. I found myself involuntarily humming old style popular Italian songs I recalled from my childhood.

MixwitMixwit make a mixtapeMixwit mixtapes

In case you don't have a head full of appropriate tunes, I took the liberty of putting together a little mix tape for you. Hopefully the music will transport you someplace where tearing bread with your hands and then squeezing the juice out of tomatoes seems just the right way to have fun while sipping wine and preparing a delicious dinner.I borrowed liberally from at least three different recipes I came across on the internet. Here is the blended version I ended up with, a perfectly delicious, summery evening panzanella that nicely filled us up without weighing us down. Served with a glass of slightly chilled red, it was a great finish to a leisurely day. I appreciated the way the mix of bread, tomato and herb colors fed the eyes first, as a dish ought to do.In a version of this using only white bread, you'd end up with a salad rendition of the colors of the Italian flag.  Che bella!

Panzanella with Sardines
3 cups hand torn pieces of hearty bread, half and half white and whole grain
1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic minced
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 small red onion, diced (about 1/3 cup
3/4 cup olive oil (including reserved oil from sardines)
5 medium to large heirloom tomatoes, mixed red and yellow
1/2 cup pitted large green olives (cured in oil with minced garlic)**
1 cup packed coarsely chopped mixed basil, thyme and sage leaves
1 tin lightly smoked sardines packed in olive oil

Drain sardines, reserve oil for dressing. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread torn bread on a baking sheet and toast until crisp, 10-15 minutes. Stir once halfway through toasting time. Set aside and let cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, whisk together mustard, black pepper, garlic, onion and vinegar. Add the onion and let them bloom for at least 15 minutes. Add in the sardines, breaking them into the mixture. Stir in the reserved olive oil from the sardines along with enough oil to measure 3/4 cup. Whisk to emulsify.

Rough chop the tomatoes into a large sieve or colander, draining all liquid into bowl with dressing. Squeeze tomatoes slightly with your hands to juice as needed. Allow tomatoes to drain into bowl with dressing for 5 minutes.

Whisk dressing again and check seasoning. Add salt if needed. Stir in tomatoes, olives, fresh herbs and bread. Mix well and recheck seasoning, correcting with salt/pepper and/or additional oil or vinegar to taste. Serve immediately.
This is one of those nearly foolproof dishes where you can bend the rules and the ingredients list nearly at will. The key elements are day old or oven toasted bread to prevent sogginess, and tomatoes with great flavor to play against the natural sweetness of the fresh herbs and the salty tartness of the olives and the dressing.I am seriously thunking my brow over having waited so long to enjoy panzanella. I found it a fabulous delivery method for my first venture into sardine territory. I served this with a nice Italian Sangiovese (Santa Cristina 2005 from the Toscana region), but I think a Spanish table red would go equally well. This is simple food so the wine doesn't need to be showy or pricey - it only needs to hold it's own, which any decent Spanish or Italian table red ought to be able to do.**Most of the recipes I found calling for olives in this salad specified using kalamatas. I had every intention of scoring a cup or so of those from the olive bar at a local store I frequent, but they were out.I substituted large green Spanish olives that were swimming in minced garlic, so adjusted the amount of garlic in the dressing accordingly. I think the green olives provided a bright fruity top note that kalamatas would not, so was not troubled by the substitution long run. If I were making this salad without the sardines, then kalamata olives would fill in with that meaty salty taste nicely.

Although salt was called for in all the recipes I found, I didn't use any additional salt in my version of this. Between the mustard, the green olives, the garlic and the sardines, I thought it was salty enough. It is my understanding that many Tuscan breads (one of several regions from which this dish was popularized) were classically baked without salt in protest of the salt taxes levied by their neighbors.  My breads both had salt in them, so again, I was happy with the results sans extra.

With or without my new friends the sardines, don't wait to try this great summertime dinner salad for yourself.  You won't be sorry.   Buon' appetito!

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