With people beginning to travel again despite COVID-19, it can sometimes feel like, in the lyrics of Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, that “everybody’s coming to my house.”
We all have these mixed feelings when guests insist on being fed, which can be hard to avoid around the holidays. Add to that the pressures of COVID-19 and of trying to capture the wabi-sabi transience of a sudden glut of fall produce, and it can get overwhelming. Simple, adaptable, scalable recipes are your savior.
Panzanella, aka bread salad, is intrinsically linked to the peak summer tomato explosion. For the purists, the Giuseppe Palmieri version from Massimo Bottura’s “Bread is Gold” is the gold standard for zero waste and simplicity. Outside of home, it’s magic for potlucks and picnics. It’s also infinitely adaptable to whatever you have on hand, like autumn kaki (persimmons).
Underripe persimmons are inedible and full of astringent tannins, but then all at once the ripe fruits are everywhere, with a short window in which they’re just right to eat raw. Magicians work wonders with hoshigaki and preserved varieties, and they can even be cooked (Ramen Shop in Oakland, California uses them as a base for a vegetarian noodle bowl), but when you’re gifted a fresh half-dozen, what do you do?
Bread, too, has a limited shelf life. You’ve either baked or bought it fresh, but by the time you come to the end of a rustic loaf the only thing it is good for is the toaster. Or so you think. Stale bread was consumed for millennia prior to the recent commercial addition of preservatives, when it was dried and used in any number of dishes. Panzanella combines juicy ingredients to bring new life to desiccated crusts. The relationship works both ways, and the bread sponges up any excess liquid.
This version is particularly ideal for those surprisingly warm autumn afternoons when you wonder why you’d ever planned to serve steamy soup.
Serves 4 starters or 2 mains
Prep: 10 mins.
• 75 milliliters apple cider vinegar
• 50 grams dried cranberries
• 2 persimmons
• 45 milliliters olive oil
• 40 grams pumpkin seeds
• Large bunch of sage, whole leaves picked
• 1 small head romaine or radicchio, halved lengthwise
• 200 grams stale baguette or sourdough, torn into chunks
• 100 grams crumbled feta or cottage cheese
1. Warm the vinegar in a microwave and pour it over the cranberries. Leave them to plump and cool while you work.
2. Peel, deseed and cut the persimmons into bite-sized chunks and place them in a mixing bowl.
3. Add 15 milliliters of olive oil to a frying pan and toast the pumpkin seeds until they begin to color, then add the sage, wait 10 seconds and remove from heat. (An optional extra step: Turn the same pan to high heat and sear the romaine on each side.)
4. Whether cooked or raw, chop the romaine into bite-size chunks. In the mixing bowl, wet the bread with the vinegar from the cranberries, reserving the berries, and mix with the persimmon, romaine, feta and remaining olive oil to combine. Let stand for 10 minutes.
5. Arrange on a large plate and top with the rehydrated cranberries, pumpkin seeds and sage.
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