Thursday, August 22, 2013


Everywhere I go I hear 'the tomatoes are late this year' (makes you wonder what social circles I am traveling in these days). Hearing this tomato chatter made me realize I guess I have not been paying attention all these years to the arrival date of summer tomatoes (or my social circles were ones not having the status of tomato ripeness on the tips of their tongues). So yes, according to my in the know sources, tomatoes indeed have been a little late this year. But as they say 'some things are worth the wait' because the heirloom, cherry and beefsteak tomatoes now at the farm stands are absolutely beautiful and oh so good.

However, in spite of the proliferation of those tomatoes, I was on the hunt for plum tomatoes. Yet I could only find them in the grocery store (they must be making their debut at the farm stands a little later). But I was more than okay with my grocery store plum tomatoes for a panzanella salad, for a very different panzanella that is. And after making it with really, really good results, I can hardly wait to making an even greater one when I can get plum tomatoes that have been picked fresh. I think I have convinced myself that tomatoes fresh from the farm stand or farmer's markets are better than the ones from the grocery store. It could be my imagination, but other than grape or cherry tomatoes I generally don't eat tomatoes in the winter or early spring as they are sort of flavorless.

There are many versions of panzanella recipes with each of them made with at least bread, tomatoes, basil and capers. Some versions call for the addition of onions, cucumber, and/or peppers. Almost every version calls for the use of raw vegetables, except for the one Katie Quinn Davies, author of What Katie Atehas created. In her version the tomatoes are roasted until soft and slightly caramelized, the red peppers are grilled, and the bread (sourdough no less) is lightly drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and toasted in the oven. And if those changes are not enough to transform this salad, the panzanella is made with fresh mozzarella. No, this is not a modified caprese salad and it is not your ordinary panzanella salad. It is an extraordinary panzanella having flavors of roasted vegetables which take it to an OMG level of deliciousness. I seriously doubt I can ever eat a panzanella not made Katie's way.

You will be rewarded for the time and effort (and for enduring a warm kitchen on a warm summer day) that go into the making of this panzenella. While I have always loved the flavor of roasted red peppers, I can now say I absolutely love the flavor of roasted plum tomatoes. I wouldn't go so far as to say I will never eat a raw tomato again, but I don't know if the taste of a raw tomato can even come close to the sweetness of a roasted tomato. Not to mention the aroma of roasted tomatoes is a downright heavenly scent (Could this be what the kitchens in Italy smell like?).

This recipe calls eight plum tomatoes and three red peppers. The next time I make this panzanella I might add at least one or two additional plum tomatoes.

The plum tomatoes are halved lengthwise, placed on a baking sheet, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Now keep reading because when I share with you the length of time they roast for you might say "I am too busy for this". To that I would say "until you taste this panzanella these would not be two wasted hours". Yes, the plum tomatoes roast for 2 hours in a preheated 300 degree oven. But once they are in the oven you don't have to do anything to them, so you can go out for a run, a bike ride, read, or any number of things that make you happy (doing household chores don't make me happy so I didn't list them out here, but you could probably get quite a bit of housework done while these tomatoes are roasting).

The sourdough bread is placed in the oven for the last 30 minutes of the tomato roasting time. I like to cut my sourdough loaf into one inch slices before tearing into bite sized pieces as it just makes it easier. Once you have the bread torn, place on a baking sheet, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and place in the 300 degree oven or bake until they lightly golden-brown and crispy (mine didn't get lightly golden brown but they did get crispy).

There are many ways to roast peppers. For me the easiest way is to place them on grill, rotating occasionally until the skins are blackened. You can also char the red peppers by placing them in a 425 degree oven and roasting for approximately one hour (remember to coat them with a little olive oil if you choose the oven roasting method). Once roasted, place them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap until they have cooled. Remove the charred skins and seeds before cutting the red peppers into thin strips. Whatever you do, do not rinse the peppers under the faucet as you will remove some of the flavor of the peppers. The strips of red peppers are placed in a bowl and mixed with one tablespoon of olive oil. They are set aside until you are ready to assemble the salad.

After roasting for two hours, the plum tomatoes become softened and slightly caramelized. They are allowed to come to room temperature before the salad is assembled.

The dressing for this panzanella is a simple balsamic one or should I say an incredibly simple flavorful one. Katie called for first drizzling the sourdough bread croutons with the dressing, however, I put all of the panzanella ingredients on a serving platter (except the torn basil leaves) and then drizzled the dressing over the top. I also doubled the amount of dressing as 4 tablespoons of dressing was not nearly enough to dress the salad. After the dressing was added and the salad lightly tossed, the basil leaves were sprinkled over the top.

Panzanella (slight adaptation of Katie Quinn Davies' recipe from What Katie Ate)

8 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
3 red bell peppers
8 ounces of fresh mozzarella, torn into bite sized pieces
3 Tablespoons of capers (rinsed)
14-16 basil leaves torn in half
1 small to medium sized loaf of sourdough bread (day old), torn into bite sized pieces
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

6 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
pinch of sea salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Place halved tomatoes on baking sheet, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 2 hours until softened and slightly caramelized. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature.
3. Place torn sourdough bread pieces on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 30 minutes or until lightly golden brown and crispy. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Note: Add bread to the last 30 minutes of roasting time for the tomatoes.
4. Grill red bell peppers until charred. Remove from grill, place in bowl and cover with plastic wrap. When cool enough to touch, remove charred skins and seeds. Slice thinly. Place in bowl and mix with 1 Tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil. Set aside.
5. For the dressing: Mix 6 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive with 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar. Add a pinch of sea salt and black pepper. Whisk until combined.
6. Place tomatoes, peppers, capers, bread, and capers on serving platter. Drizzle dressing over top and mix.
7. Add torn basil leaves on top and serve.

Next to the ocean, mountains, flowers and landscapes in general, I have taken more than my share of sky photos. I love capturing the sky in its various shades of blue and clouds in their different formations. Sometimes I wonder if these sky photos are subliminally representing my every now and then 'head in the clouds' state. For the record, when my head is in the proverbial clouds, I can still separate reality from fantasy (but there are some I know who actually might debate this).

Cumulus clouds are my absolute favorites as they are breathtaking to look at and to photo. There is something magical about those big white puffy clouds when they hover over the sea or the mountains. As a kid (a young one and an older one) I loved to look for the shapes of things in the clouds. As recently evidenced when my niece was recently visiting, we all see different things in the clouds. Just like we often see different qualities to people. Where some see goodness others see a darker side, where some see generosity others see selfishness, where some see selflessness others see self-servingness, and where some see self-confidence others see a lack of confidence. Haven't you ever wondered how it is that we can look at the same person and see completely opposite things? Could our love for or familiarity or interactions with affect our levels of perceptiveness? Do we sometimes see only what others want us to see? While there may be many answers to those questions, one thing is for certain. Like the cumulus clouds in the sky, what we see in others is often a reflection of what we want to see.

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