In August we had the pleasure of hosting Leanne Brown on our show who showed how delicious inexpensive homemade meals can be. Here she offers her take on the beloved Tuscan staple, panzanella. Her entire book can be downloaded and printed from its PDF format here, but we also encourage you to consider buying the New York Times best-selling book in its beautifully-published (and longer!) format, available now on Amazon.
EATING IS one of life’s greatest pleasures. In a perfect world, healthy and delicious food would be all around us. It would be easy to choose and easy to enjoy. But of course, it’s not a perfect world. There are thousands of barriers that can keep us from eating in a way that nourishes our bodies and satisfies our tastes. Money just shouldn’t be one of them.
Kitchen skill, not budget, is the key to great food. Good and Cheap is a celebration of the many delicious meals available to those on even the strictest of budgets. Eating on a limited budget is not easy, and there are times when a tough week can turn mealtime into a chore. As one woman told me, “I’m weary of the ‘what’s for dinner?’ game.”
I hope this recipe for Spicy Panzanella salad, along with all of the other recipes and techniques in Good and Cheap, can help make those times rare and the tough choices a little more bearable.
RECIPE: SPICY PANZANELLA
Serves 4 as a side
A former classmate of mine, George, likes salads with a little kick. (As you can maybe tell, I do, too!) For inspiration, I turned to panzanella, a classic Italian bread-and-tomato salad. The Italians are true masters of making leftovers delicious. Here, old hard bread soaks up tomato juice and dressing for a super-flavorful and filling salad. You can toss in any vegetable or fruit as long as it’s juicy. Bell peppers or carrots won’t work so well, but peaches, grapes, and zucchini all do. If you don’t like spicy salads as much as George and I do, feel free to seed and stem the jalapeño to remove its fierce heat, or replace it entirely with garlic or shallot.
2 small field cucumbers or 1 English cucumber
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
4 slices day-old bread
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a few drops for the pan
1 jalapeño, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped tomato
salt and pepper, to taste
juice of 1 lime
chopped fresh herbs
chopped peaches, nectarines, or plums
finely chopped red onion
chopped zucchini or summer squash
1. If you’re using field cucumbers—usually cheaper than English—peel them to remove the tough skin. (A little leftover peel is not a problem.) For English cucumbers, there’s no need to peel.
2. Reserve about 2 tablespoons of the chopped tomatoes to use in the dressing, but throw the rest of the tomatoes and all of the cucumbers into a large bowl. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper; the salt helps draw out the juices. Toss the vegetables and set aside.
3. Place a small saucepan over medium heat and add a few drops of olive oil. Add the jalapeño and sauté until it sizzles and smells good, about a minute, then add the rest of the chopped tomato and a tablespoon of water. Cook until the tomato juices release, another 2 minutes. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.
4. Once the water has evaporated, turn off the heat and dump the jalapeño-tomato mixture on your cutting board. Chop it up very finely, then throw it back into the pan—with the heat off—with the lime juice and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Stir to combine, taste, and add salt and pepper as needed. You’ve got dressing!
5. Chop or tear the bread into bite-size pieces, then toast it in a skillet over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until the bread chunks are toasty on all sides. Alternatively, just toast full slices of bread in a toaster and tear them up afterward, or skip the toasting if the bread is already super-hard.
6. Add the bread and dressing to the vegetables and stir to combine. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper once more. Let the salad sit for a few minutes so that the bread can soak up the juices, then serve!
Photos courtesy of Workman Publishing
Hear Julie’s 2013 interview with Sandi Klein here.