With bread prevalent at nearly any meal, there is one common use for which it goes strangely under the radar in America: as an ingredient in salad. In Italy, cubed stale bread tossed with tomatoes, greens, onions and olive oil becomes panzanella. Though Americans use seasoned and toasted bread cubes in salad, the effect is different: croutons add crunch and texture to a green salad, while Italian bread salads make use of stale bread by rehydrating it and tossing it with flavorful ingredients.
While the first reference to panzanella in the sixteenth century describes toast with onion, purslane, cucumber, oil and vinegar, Florentine purists consider it stale bread soaked in water and squeezed dry with tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, often with onion and basil. Common but unconventional additions also include salad greens and different herbs, olives, cheese, tuna, hard boiled eggs, anchovies and white wine.
Inspired by the idea of this salad, oven roasted tomatoes and onions, I adapted a version for hearty hors d’oeuvres or a light dinner. I used fresh ciabatta bread rather than stale, and added white beans which are also common in cuisine from Tuscany.
The distinctive part of this salad comes from oven roasted cherry tomatoes, pearl onions and garlic. Tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, the vegetables were roasted whole at 325° for an hour, until they were dehydrated and slightly caramelized.
I sliced the ciabatta bread into half-inch cubes and then tossed them with a can of rinsed white beans, the warm roasted vegetables and a generous drizzle of high quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Even though the roasting took a while, the hands-on time of this salad is very limited, and makes this a wonderful week-night dinner. Left overs are also delicious as the bread soaks up the dressing and liquid from the roasted vegetables.
Stale bread is traditionally used for this type of salad, so don’t worry about the freshness of your ciabatta – it is a great way to use up any leftover bread you may have around.
15 to 20 pearl onions, peeled
3 to 4 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
5 cloves garlic, peeled
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Red pepper flakes, to taste
15 ounces white beans of any variety, drained and rinsed thoroughly
4 cups ciabatta bread, slice into ½ inch cubes
- Preheat the oven to 325°.
- In a nine inch glass baking dish, toss the pearl onions, grape tomatoes and garlic with two to three tablespoons olive oil, generous salt and season to taste with black pepper and red pepper flakes. Roast in the oven for forty five to sixty minutes or until the vegetables are caramelized and dehydrated, gently stirring occasionally.
- In a medium bowl, toss the ciabatta and white beans. Add the roasted vegetables, and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Toss to coat evenly and serve.
Yields 4 entrée portions, 6 to 8 hors d’oeuvres portions