Monday, August 27, 2012
Meatless Monday - Roasted Corn and Heirloom Tomato Panzanella
Panzanella is yet another of the many ways Italian Nonnas (AKA grandmothers) use leftover bread. Primarily it is bread and vegetables tossed with lots of olive oil and a touch of vinegar. Sometimes the bread is used simply in its ultra stale form; but many interpret this differently by toasting it more in the vein of croutons. With no appreciation for even slightly soggy bread, I'm definitely in the latter camp.
I'm not sure if the Nonnas would scold me or not, but if they don't for that, they might for this...roasted corn. Corn is not really used in its fresh state in Europe in general, but especially in Italy. You see it in its dried form as polenta, but rarely anywhere else. In the US, corn and tomato season are simultaneous so they land together in dishes quite a bit (as in this one) so I guess in the sense of Italians mantra "what grows together goes together", maybe I would be forgiven.
My real inspiration to make Panzanella came out of the bounty of my veggie drawer and a last minute menu change. My last CSA box had 6 ears and after roasting them, I've been throwing corn in almost everything so when I found out the menu for our friends' going away party had changed from everyone bringing appetizers to an actual dinner dish, I improvised. My heirloom tomato and mozzarella bruschetta morphed into panzanella when I added the corn, some shallots and a little garlic. And as many other culinary improvs, it was awesome and will be repeated. (Although knowing me, not exactly the same!)
Feel free to add whatever other late summer veggies may be piling up on your counter along with your tomatoes (And please do not ever put a tomato in the fridge) or in your veggie drawer - squash, cucumbers, peppers. Let me know how your version turns out. My final result:
Roasted Corn & Heirloom Tomato Panzanella
1 baguette, cut into 1" cubes
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme, optional but great if you have it
3 lbs heirloom tomates, assorted sizes and colors
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
1 large or two small shallots, minced and soaked in salted warm water
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 ears of corn, roasted and cut off the cob
8 oz fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2" cubes, optional for a vegan dish
1 small bunch of basil (about 1/2 cup of torn basil or small, whole leaves), reserve a few leaves to garnish
balsamic or sherry vinegar
On a large cookie sheet, toss the baguettes with a generous sprinkle of garlic powder (yes, you could use real garlic, but it tends to burn and turn bitter.), the thyme leaves and a lot of olive oil. Toast in a 375 degree oven until brown on the top side, turn and brown the other side.
While the bread is toasting, cut the tomatoes in halves, quarters or lengthwise slices depending on their original size, basically bite-sized pieces. Toss the tomatoes with 1 1/2 tsp salt, a large drizzle of olive oil and several cranks of black pepper. Toss well and taste. Add more salt or pepper if necessary. The salt will begin to pull the juice out of the tomatoes which is crucial for the right amount of moisture to soften the croutons.
At this point you can layer everything else (drained shallots, garlic, corn, cheese, basil) except the vinegar in the bowl. Do not toss until close to serving. (If croutons are super crunchy as ours were, that can be 30 minutes ahead, if they are "airy" or not very crunchy, only 10-15 minutes ahead max.) When ready to toss, add a couple of tablespoons of vinegar and toss well. Taste a little of everything and add more olive oil, vinegar, salt or pepper until it tastes good to you. Garnish with reserved basil leaves.
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