Panzanella and the Truth About Olive Oil

by katie

We made panzenella last night, which was great both for my taper/carb loading and because it is one of Tom’s favorite dinners ever.  I’ve followed this recipe from Ina Garten (more or less) for years.  I typically make a couple of adjustments, but otherwise stick to the recipe.  Dinner last night, like most nights, was a team effort.  Here’s what we did:

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First, I gathered up all the veggies and got busy chopping.  I used three good-sized heirloom tomatoes, a red bell pepper, a yellow bell pepper, a small red onion, and a hothouse cucumber.  I also added a whole bunch of chopped fresh basil.  I was hoping to use basil from our garden, but it took a little bit of a hit early on and is just now recovering.

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Once all the vegetables were cut up into bite-sized pieces, I added a bunch of drained capers.  I use twice as many as Ina’s recipe calls for because we just love them.  After that, I took a picture of everything in a big bowl with a giant shadow over it.  Nice.

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While I was chopping, Tom made the croutons.  He cut up a whole baguette into 1″ cubes, and then tossed the cubes with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  He broiled them until they were golden and crunchy.  The baguette was a few days old, which means it soaked up the delicious olive oil like a champ.

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The dressing was next up.  This is where I depart from Ina’s recipe in the vinegar department.  She calls for champagne vinegar.  I usually have that on hand, so could have used it, but we really prefer balsamic for this.  I just swap the champagne vinegar for balsamic in equal amounts.  I also add a pinch or two of sugar, particularly at this time of year when the tomatoes are fine, but not great.  It just adds a little more depth of flavor.

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 Here’s everything combined in the big bowl.

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We served the panzanella in pasta bowls with a little olive oil and balsamic glaze to finish.  YUM.  

The olive oil we used on the finished dish is definitely not an olive oil I use for regular cooking.  For one thing, it’s expensive.  For another thing, heat would ruin its great flavor.  First Fresh is available in specialty stores, like the one I shop at, and is just incredible.  Unlike a lot of oils sold in the U.S. as olive oil, First Fresh is the real deal.  It’s packed with antioxidants and has a superior olive flavor.  For regular cooking (like for making the croutons, above), we use California Olive Ranch.  It’s also not the cheapest thing around, but at least we know we’re getting what we’ve paid for.

If you want to learn more about impostor olive oils, you should check out the episode The Splendid Table did on the subject awhile back.  The author of Extra Virginity was a guest and explained a lot about the often fraudulent “olive” oil industry.  It was eye-opening and definitely impacted what I buy.