Baked punnets of panzanella
"Un'insalata di Cipolla trita con la porcellanetta e cetriuoli
vince ogn'altro piacer di questa vita."
That is: "A [bread] salad made with chopped onions, purslane [a type of wild succulent lettuce], and cucumbers surpasses all other pleasures in this life."
Now here is where salt comes in. Salting the tomatoes intensifies flavour in the Panzanella. Tossing the tomatoes directly with the bread is good enough, but you can coax a little more concentrated flavour out by salting and draining them first. Salting draws liquid out of tomatoes through the process of osmosis—that is, the tendency of a liquid (tomato juice) to migrate across a membrane (the tomato's cell walls) from an area of low solute concentration (within the cells) to an area of high solute concentration (outside of the cells). In other words, salt draws out the water in tomatoes, which makes each piece of tomato more flavoursome.
Conveniently, this process takes about 15 minutes—exactly the same amount of time that bread takes to toast in the oven, and incidentally, the same amount of time it takes me to polish off a small, cold glass of wine.
The liquid that gets pulled from the tomatoes, while not quite as flavoursome as the actual tomato that's left behind, still has plenty to offer.Whisking this tomato juice into my vinaigrette was another additional upgrade. The salad ended up with plenty of ambient tomato flavour, punctuated by chunks of concentrated, extra-tomato-y pieces. My third and final amendment was to serve the salad in baked bread punnets,just a witty retort to a bread salad.
2 1/2 pounds (1.1kg) mixed ripe tomatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
2 teaspoons Flor de sal, plus more for seasoning (use half as much if using table salt)
340g ciabatta or rustic sourdough bread, cut into 1 1/2–inch cubes (about 6 cups bread cubes)
10 tablespoons (150ml) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons wine vinegar red or white
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup packed basil leaves, roughly chopped
6 slices white sandwich bread for the punnets
Place chopped tomatoes in a colander set over a bowl and season with 2 teaspoons (8g) kosher salt. Toss to coat. Set aside at room temperature to drain, tossing occasionally. Drain for a minimum of 15 minutes.Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F (180°C) and adjust rack to centre position. In a large bowl, toss bread cubes with 2 tablespoons (30ml) olive oil. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Bake about 15 minutes, until crisp and firm but not browned. Remove from oven and let cool.
Remove colander with tomatoes from bowl with tomato juice. Place colander with tomatoes in sink. Add shallot, garlic, mustard, and vinegar to bowl with tomato juice. Whisking constantly, drizzle in remaining 1/2 cup (120ml) olive oil. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.Combine toasted bread, tomatoes, and dressing in a large bowl. Add basil leaves. Toss everything to coat and season with salt and pepper. Let rest 30 minutes before serving, tossing occasionally until the dressing is absorbed by the bread.
TO MAKE THE PUNNETS
Heat oven to 200°C.
Flatten each bread slice with a rolling pin. Make a 1-inch lengthwise cut into each corner of bread slice with a sharp knife. Lightly brush both sides of bread slices with melted butter or oil. Gently press flattened bread slices into cups of ungreased 12-cup muffin pan, overlapping crust to form cup. Bake 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.