When you’re all out of options, just make bread salad

Actually, a more appropriate title for this post might be “When we’re tired of making tomato sauces, or tomato salads, or tomato soups, what else can we do with tomatoes??”

With more than a bumper crop of tomatoes this year, a lot of our time in the kitchen has revolved around the question “how can we add tomatoes?” Yes, we’ve canned some and dried some more and have eaten raw still more, but we still have dozens of tomatoes either in the houseor still on the plants that are just waiting to be eaten in some way, shape, or form. Our moment of inspiration concerning bread salad came from one of those Saturday afternoon cooking shows on our local public broadcasting television station. Take bread, lots of tomatoes, various greens, a vinaigrette of sorts, and voila! A happy one dish meal that’s great (and very fulling) on a warm summer day.

While the recipe we saw on television was fine enough, it didn’t use much basil, which we’ve also managed to grow lots of and have also been looking to shoehorn into dishes whenever we can. So we went online to look at other bread salad, or panzanella, recipes. We quickly discovered that you can put just about anything you want into a bread salad, as long as one of the main ingredients is bread. But we chose to go the traditional and simple route. (One that fit our pantry’s inventory.) After a bit of searching, we came across this one from Emeril Lagasse:

Ingredients
4 large vine ripened tomatoes, cut into large cubes or wedges
1/2 pound stale country-style Italian bread, crusts removed and cubed (about 8 cups)
1 1/4 cups thinly sliced red onions
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup Italian extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch fresh basil, stems removed, washed and spun dry, turn into pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions
In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, bread, and onions. In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, vinegar and oil. Pour the dressing over the bread salad and let sit for 30 minutes at room temperature. Add the basil and salt and pepper, to taste, and toss to combine. Serve.

******

It sounded wonderful! The fact that bread, tomatoes, and basil were at the heart of this dish won us over. But we decided to switch things up a little based on what we had or didn’t. The first thing that had to change were the onions and garlic. Neither of us are huge fans of raw garlic or red onion. And we didn’t have any red onion anyway, so there was that. We also didn’t have any red wine vinegar — which might be a little surprising given that our pantry contains nearly every other type of vinegar imaginable! But we had plenty of everything else and figured with a few tastes tests concerning the viniagrette and a substitution, a deletion, and addition (cheese, because CHEESE!), we could come up with something that was relatively tasty.  Here’s the final recipe:

Garden State-ments Bread Salad

In progress...
In progress…

Ingredients

2 cups assorted tomatoes, roughly chopped and seeded (seeding is optional)
1/2 pound stale Italian bread, cubed (about 8 cups) (can be toasted or grilled, if you prefer a little crunch to your salad)
1 cup thinly sliced vidalia or other sweet onion
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups fresh basil, stems removed, washed and spun dry, roughly chopped
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Same as above

Ready to serve!
Ready to serve!

The results were truly delicious and satisfying! And what’s great about the recipe, as we already mentioned, is that it’s so variable. We saw recipes that included peppers, tons of garlic, different type of rustic bread, different greens, and different vinaigrettes.  Serve this on its own as a light meal or as a side to any Italian-inspired meal. A little goes a very long way!

While the bread salad is a fantastic way to use up ripened tomatoes, we also tackled one other…well, it wasn’t a dilemma, but rather a question.

“Can anything be done with tomato skins?”

We thought about this after the first time we made sauce earlier this year. You might be familiar with the tomato sauce prep  routine of setting the tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds and then putting them in ice water to remove the skins. After completing this, we were left with a couple decent-sized handfuls of tomato skins. At the time then we discarded them, but the question arose nonetheless. With our most recent sauce-making venture, the question came up again, only this time we opted to do something. We went online (thank goodness for the Internet!) as did some searching to see if tomato skins could be saved and used. (The and is really important there — no sense in saving something if it can’t be used, right?) Came to find out that yes(!), you can dry tomato skins and make a tomato powder than can be added to dishes for flavor or even, in a pinch, be reconstituted for a quick tomato soup. So we washed off our batch of tomato skins and laid them out in the dehydrator.

Prepped and ready to go.
Prepped and ready to go.

It took close to a day and a half to dry them out to the consistency of crumbly tissue paper. But in the end, we ended up with close to a cup of crushed tomato flakes.

So now what?
So now what?

Experiment successful, but now what? We think we’ll try the tomato soup option come the winter, but they might also be great in a tomato and mozzarella bread.

Next week, we promise we’re going to talk about something other than tomatoes. No really…promise!

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