Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Panzanella and Fattoush

My home-made Panzanella
Lately I have been loving two very tasty and flavourful salads. The Tuscan Bread and Tomato salad Panzanella and the Middle Eastern Fattoush.  Flavor and origin wise they are worlds away, but coincidentally they both have BREAD as the star ingredient. Toasted pita to be exact in the Fattoush and Italian crusty bread in the Panzanella.

I have always liked these salads. The fresh produce that is abundant now that spring is here, is really making them a staple for me almost weekly. I've been lucky enough to perfect the Panzanella recipe at home so I fill that craving all by myself. As for the Fattoush, I swear by the Lebanese restaurant Carnival where it is perfect every time
Fattoush Salad

I love the Panzanella at a restaurant in Sherman Oaks, ironically named
Although I've had it elsewhere over the years, theirs is still my favorite (along with their killer mushroom soup)! The ingredients they use are so simple and fresh and the salad is just beautiful.

Bright colored juicy sweet red tomatoes, crisp fresh cucumbers, fragrant basil, tangy onion and extra virgin olive oil. The BEST however is the bread, that soaks up the tanginess of the basil and olive oil, and becomes moist and pleasantly soggy yet crispy in parts! SO GOOD. It is a traditional "bread salad" after all, so its no wonder the bread just shines.

As for the Fattoush, toasted pita bread, Sumac (a gorgeous burgundy colored spice derived from a plant that "grows wild in the middle east and parts of Italy"), lemon juice and olive oil are at the forefront of this Lebanese staple. Traditionally the Salad is made with whatever fresh seasonal ingredients you feel like using. Carnival's version has tomatoes, cucumbers, green bell pepper, red onion, radishes, parsley, tons of sumac, olive oil, fresh lemon juice and crispy crunchy toasted pita. Like the crusty bread in the Panzanella the Pita in the Fattoush just makes the salad. Smothered in uniquely tart earthy sumac, and drenched in the fresh lemon and olive oil its a wake-up call to every taste bud in your mouth. I love it!

So similar yet so different these two salads are really a favorite of mine. The way that the pure flavors and freshness of the vegetables is brought out by simple seasonings is very special. They make me feel and think of warm summer nights and it being light out even though its almost 8pm. They make me feel like simple is sometimes best, and somehow manage to erase the worries and complexities of day to day life.

I know it may sound strange but sometimes all we really need is a "Panzanella/Fattoush Day". This is a day where everything is or at least seems simple, sweet and pure. Hmmmm, maybe that's why I've been craving them so much lately. We all need to try and keep it simple from time to time. The things that get us to "Simple" may differ for everyone, for me it took a summery, fresh, tasty salad.


1/2 crusty bread (I use a sourdough baguette) cut into 1-inch cubes 
1 box sweet cherry tomatoes, cut in to quarters
2 unpeeled English cucumbers, cut 1/2-inch thick
1 red and 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut in to cubes
1/2 red onion, cut the half twice, then chop
11/2 hand fulls basil leaves, coarsely chopped
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, you will need for dressing and frying the bread
Kosher Salt and Black pepper for seasoning
NOTE: Make sure all vegetables are cut roughly to the same size.

For the dressing
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 large garlic cloves finely minced
3 table spoons champagne vinegar (red wine vinegar is OK as well)
1/2 cup of olive oil


1. Whisk the dressing ingredients all together, and season w a little salt and pepper to taste, set aside

2. Heat 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the cubed bread and season liberally with kosher salt. Cook over medium to low heat, stirring and tossing frequently until they are crisp and nicely browned. Feel free to add more oil as you go as it may evaporate.

The Bread

Assembled Veggies and Basil
3. In a large bowl assemble all the vegetables and the basil. When bread is golden and crisp add to the salad and gently toss with the dressing using clean hands. Taste a little and season with salt and pepper if need be. Let the salad sit for about 15-20 min so all the flavors can marry and the bread absorb some of the juices.


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