Everyone and their sister (including, Jodi, one of mine) has blogged about panzanella this summer. Why should I be any different? Panzanella is a staple at our house in Todi in August. One reason is, of course, because we love it so much. But another reason is due to my Jewish mother tendency to make extra sure everyone has enough to eat all the time.
I’m always scared we won’t have enough food. So while doing the grocery shopping I’ll pick up an extra kilo or two of bread. Just in case. You never know. Right? No problem. I’m prepared.
The bread I stock up on is from the local supermarket (formally called Sidis, now called Emi, in Ponte Rio). Every morning at 10am they get piping hot crusty loaves of pane di Strettura, which comes from a village about a half hour away. It’s fantastic, naturally risen and lasts for about a week. But still, what with my over-buying tendencies, it does eventually dry out and makes the perfect main ingredient for panzanella.
But rather than give you my run-of-the-mill recipe for panzanella, I’ll share a recipe from the panzanella king. Salvatore Denaro has a completely different approach to panzanella. He doesn’t rely on the staleness of left over bread but instead is always prepared. He uses really hard and crunchy friselle, which he keeps in his pantry. (If you don’t know what friselle are, go here. And if you don’t know who Salvatore is, go here)
Although Salvatore had one of the best restaurants in central Italy for many years, (Il Bacco Felice in Foligno) these days he is parked at Caprai Vineyards. In addition to being their in-house traveling Umbrian food show, he leads cooking classes in their spacious kitchen. Here he imparts the secrets behind some of his best-loved dishes: eggplant parmigiana, caponata, spaghetti alla norma and…..panzanella.
A couple of weeks ago Salvatore invited us to a picnic on a friend’s farm outside of Bevagna. But first we met up at Caprai. After a cold glass of Grecante, we headed out to the orto Salvatore has planted there. While Rosa, his black lab, cooled off in the lettuce patch, we picked about three kilos of the over fifteen types of heirloom tomatoes Salvatore has raised to take along.
We then headed into the kitchen to pick up the panzanella Salvatore had made early that morning. After dousing it with a bit more oil (actually quite a bit. More like a river: it horrified my other sister Robin ) we grabbed the huge ceramic dish and headed to the picnic.
Although the panzanella was only the first course (followed by grilled deer and Salvatore’s famous heirloom tomatoes) it was the star of the show. By the time Salvatore began dishing it out, the wholewheat friselle had soaked up all the oily tomatoey goodness and become soft and savory, but still firm enough to avoid mushy.
Salvatore’s panzanella is definitely his own southern version of this dish. Besides the usual tomatoes (fantastic heirlooms in this case), celery and basil he adds loads and loads of olives and oregano. In fact the bready part really ends up playing an important, but almost secondary role.
And oil. Olive oil looms large in all of Salvatore’s cooking and panzanella is no exception. He adds it at the beginning. Then he adds more after it’s had time to sit. And then of course he drizzles a bit more atop each plate. (Did I mention my sister Robin was horrified?) “It’s a gutter full of oil,” admits Salvatore.
Have a go at making it yourself. Or, if you’re in Rome, until the end of the month you can order it at the pop up restaurant Il Bacco in Tevere, along the Tiber Island. Even better? Head up to Caprai to sign up for an all out, Salvatore cooking extravaganza. That way you’ll be able to make it whenever you want.
Salvatore Denaro’s Panzanella
3-4 kilos / 7-8 pounds tomatoes, chopped
3 cups cracked green olives***
3 celery hearts with leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons of dried oregano from Sicily
3 red onions, cut into fine rings (cipolla di tropea)
1 big bunch basil, torn, plus more for garnish
Pour a water into a big bowl and add about 20% vinegar. Soak each friselle until is softens. Gently squeeze out excess water and crumble into a big wide serving bowl. Add salt, pepper and 1/3 liter of olive oil and mix.
Put tomatoes, celery, basil leaves, oregano onions, salt and 1/3 liter of olive oil in a separate bowl. Mix and layer over the friselle.
Top with chopped olives. Pour over remaining 1/3 liter of oil.
Although you can stir everything up and serve right away, panzanella is even better once it gets a chance to sit. Leave it for an hour on the counter top, or even over night in the fridge.
To serve: Stir everything up. Place a lettuce leaf on a plate if you want to, then top with a portion of panzanella. Drizzle with additional olive oil and garnish with the prettiest basil leaves you have.
*Salvatore uses friselle integrale con orzo (whole wheat barley friselle)
**Any kind of vinegar will do.
***Salvatore uses his favorite olives here: Olive Verde Ammaccate di Calabria. These are green pitted olives from Calabria that have been smashed to absorb their seasonings
Località Torre di Montefalco
06036 – Montefalco (PG) Italia
Cooking Classes with Salvatore