This is the saddest time of year. Everything good in life — and by life, I mean dinner — is dying. Farmers halt their tractors in the middle of their fields, remove their straw hats and gaze out across the stretches of thin, crumbling tomato vines, wilted melons, dry and fallen stalks of corn. They fight back their tears, they turn to their hungry, waiting children, and they say, “Sorry, kids. No corn soup tonight. No roasted eggplant and ricotta pizza, no grilled tomatoes, no parsley salad. Summer’s over, kids. Go on home.” And the kids refuse to leave, but just stand there, waiting, pale with hunger; and their father just sits atop his tractor and is silent. Eventually he comes down and puts his arm around their shoulders, and together, dejected, they trod back to the house, away from the wasted fields and the low, fading sun, to return to their cold, barren kitchen.
I mean, I guess there’s hope. There’s good food coming in the fall: fresh broccoli and greens and artichokes and root vegetables, not to mention apples and apple cider and pears and wine. But summer’s still over. The produce we’ve obsessed over for the last three months is almost gone, and we — OK, maybe just ‘I’ — cannot handle it. So in these waning days of summer, it is our duty, our one imperative need, to eat the last few vestiges of summer produce.
Hence, panzanella. It’s a very simple, very summery bread salad from Tuscany. And yes, it really is a bread salad: fresh tomatoes, onions, herbs, oil and vinegar tossed in a giant bowl with crumbled pieces of good bread that soak up all the juices of the tomatoes and the tartness of the onion and the fresh liveliness of the herbs. You don’t even have to cook it; just let the ingredients sit together for half an hour. You could make it in your dorm room. Like right now, maybe.
And the nice thing about panzanella is that it gets better with time, as it sits in the bowl and the juices keep blending. You can make a ton of it, and keep eating for days. If you’d like, you can even add “extras”: lettuce or arugula, anchovies, capers, hard boiled eggs, grilled peppers and so on. Just make a lot, and make it now, because in a few weeks it’ll be gone. There won’t be any more tomatoes, or sunshine, or fun. And we’ll just have to live with it. So eat up.
1 loaf of bread, preferably ciabatta or any other crusty white bread
6 c. very ripe tomatoes (the more juice, the better)
3 c. cherry tomatoes
1 small red onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 c. fresh parsley
1 c. fresh basil
1 c. extra virgin olive oil
2 T balsamic vinegar
Salt (I used 3/4 T coarse sea salt)
(1) Chop the tomatoes and the bread into bite-size pieces. Chop the onion into much smaller pieces and mince the garlic. Finely chop the parsley and the basil.
(2) Combine everything, including the olive oil, vinegar and salt, in a large bowl. If any excess tomato juice is left on the cutting board, add that too. Stir it all around, so the tomatoes get slightly crushed and release their juices.
(3) Wait 30 minutes or so, stirring every few minutes to release more juices. Once the bread is soggy, it’s ready. Eat it, and try not to remember that it will be gone, soon.
Active time: 20 minutes, Actual time: 50 minutes. Serves six.
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