In the past year, I can’t think of any food which has graced our supper (and breakfast, and lunch) table more often than the simple… tomato. It helps that I order a Lufa basket every week since, in their greenhouses, they grow your basic varieties but also such heirloom stunners as the divine Brandywine. Plus, for the past year, I’ve been working on a book about Montreal’s Italian culture, and goodness knows Italians love their tomatoes!
I buy at least 6-8 tomatoes every week and leave them to ripen under the sun, on my kitchen window sill. No refrigerator for these guys, since the cold turns the flesh mealy and flavourless. When asked about my favourite dish for a Vero Magazine collaborator byline a while back, I pointed to Greek salad as my summer go-to. I must serve it at least once a week during the summer season. And one of my best breakfasts remains fried eggs sunny side-up, with sliced tomato, crumbled feta and chopped cilantro, drizzled with good quality olive oil. (I went crazy on my last visit to Milano Grocery on St.Laurent Blvd in Montreal and bought a 3-litre (!) canister of Planeta olive oil, so many of our meals have been oil-soaked lately, given that olive oil doesn’t keep long.)
With the most gorgeous of Brandywine in da house, and given my current love affair with Italian food, I decided to finally put together a famous salad I’ve known about for years, yet never bothered. As in, why oh ! why did I never try this until now? A riff on a panzanella, this tomato and bread salad is, to put it plainly, out of this world gorgeous. It relies on few ingredients, so they must be of the utmost quality. In-season tomatoes, perfectly ripe and window-sill warm. Great fruity olive oil with little expense spared. And day-old crusty bread that’s been sitting forlornly on a kitchen counter, waiting to be cut into great big chunks of stale goodness.
Some of the panzanella recipes out there suggest adding other vegetables such as cucumber and pepper, but I just wanted that tomato to shine in this first of my summer salad solos. And boy, did it ever. I limited garnishes to the gentle bite of red onion, the vinegar humour of capers and the meatiness of kalamata olives. I guess a black olive here might have been more Italian, but I’m a kalamata girl through and through.
So here it is, the most basic yet exciting of dishes: the Tomato-Bread Salad. Please make a point of trying this when field tomatoes start appearing at your farmer’s market, it won’t disappoint.
P.S. If there’s one thing I discovered in working with Italian chefs and other food-obsessed acquaintances almost every day for the past year, it’s that some of the basic recipes are so good, endless tweaking to “bring your own spin” mostly ends up messing with perfection to start with. So please forgive me if, in coming months, I just share some of my family food with you, sticking close to classic recipes that can be found elsewhere on Internet. My solemn promise to you is that, although traditional, they are guaranteed to please. If we share the same tastes, of course 🙂