Purslane Panzanella Salad (Italian Bread Salad)

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Purslane Panzanella Salad (Italian Bread Salad)

Most of the year Panzanella isn’t even on my radar. Then, just about this time every summer, I pick up a tomato and with one whiff I find myself thinking about this classic Italian stale bread salad. It’s a salad that somehow seems too simple to be as good as it always is. As with many peasant dishes born of necessity, there seem to be endless variations on Panzanella. Afterall, it’s not much more than chunks of day-old bread and juicy summer tomatoes tossed with whatever veggies you have on hand. Red onions, cucumbers, and bell peppers are popular choices, but there’s nothing stopping you from adding any of the other goodies from your farmers market haul. I came home with purslane in my bag this week so I made a Purslane Panzanella Salad.

Despite its simplicity, a Purslane Panzanella is more than just another tomato salad with croutons. Good Italian bread is important. Ciabatta will do in a pinch but unsalted Tuscan pane sciocco is traditional. Whatever you choose it must be stale. Don’t waste your time trying to make it with fresh bread – it will just disintegrate. The secret is to let the bread and juicy tomatoes sit long enough so that the hard bread becomes chewy. This is what transforms this simple salad into a bona fide cannot-stop-eating-it summertime sensation.

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) also known as Verdolaga, Pigweed, Little Hogweed or (my favorite) Pusley, is a succulent plant that is found most commonly in Mexican, Greek, and Middle Eastern cooking. It sounds exotic but actually, it’s a weed and it grows rampantly in Los Angeles’ Mediterranean climate. I could easily pick some on my daily walks to throw is seasonal salads, but I don’t. I’m too afraid of dog pee I guess. Fortunately, it’s readily available at the Hollywood Farmers Market. It gets very little attention as far as I have noticed. In fact, I have walked past bunches of it every Sunday for years without looking twice. But this week I was looking for an unusual ingredient to toss into this salad and Purslane Panzanella Salad seemed just the answer. GREG

PS I swear I didn’t know this before I “dreamed up” a Purslane Panzanella Salad, but soon after I made it I found this quote from a 16th-century Italian text about Panzanella. In it the Florentine painter and poet Bronzino says:

“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, and cucumbers surpasses all other pleasures in this life.”

Purslane in a BowlStack of Heirloom TomatoesPurslane Panzanella Salad (Italian Bread Salad)

Purslane Panzanella Salad

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Source Adapted from The KitchnPublished
Purslane Panzanella Salad

Ingredients

  • 6 ounce Italian style rustic bread (with crusts)
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper (to taste)
  • 2-3 good size heirloom tomatoes (or more if small, about 4 cups chopped)
  • ½ red onion
  • 2 cup purslane (loosely packed)
  • 1 cup whole fresh basil leaves (loosely packed)
  • 4 ounce diced aged goat cheese (optional)

Directions

Slice or tear the bread into bite-sized cubes. Spread the bread cubes over a baking sheet. Leave uncovered overnight to stale and harden. Alternatively, bake in a 300°F oven until hardened on the outside but still slightly soft in the middle, 8 to 12 minutes, tossing once or twice during baking. Do not toast the bread all the way.

Combine the olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and a few grinds of fresh pepper in a jar. Shake vigorously. Alternatively, combine ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Shake or mix the vinaigrette again just before serving.

Chop the tomatoes and cucumber into bite-sized pieces. Slice the onion into thin slices.

Combine the bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onion in a large mixing bowl. Pour the vinaigrette over top and fold to thoroughly combine. Let the salad sit at least half an hour or up to 4 hours before serving. Stir occasionally so the juices and vinaigrette are evenly distributed.

Just before serving stir in the purslane and basil. Garnish with goat cheese (if using).