When I lived in Florence my favorite place to take visitors, after the galleries “dell’arte,” was rural Tuscany where we’d visit olive groves, stone villas, renaissance churches, hilltops where we’d look out and marvel at the blue of the landscape that looks just the way Da Vinci painted it, and finally an old farm for lunch where a bright Panzanella was specially prepared.
Panzanella was not something that had made its way out of Tuscany at that time. It was such a classic farmer’s dish that it wasn’t even in the restaurants in Italy. The only place you’d find it was on the farm, making it more than delicious – it was a deeply personal, historical, cultural experience of a land I thought I’d never leave.
It suits my nature to make a dish that uses what we have, before looking for what we don’t, but while I loved it once, this salad is just about everything I don’t eat any more – bread, tomatoes, raw onions, raw garlic. These are foods Ayurveda calls rajasic, meaning agitating to mind and body. Indeed, many find them inflammatory.
So when I had some bread leftover last week after an evening of entertaining at my friend Marcia’s, I remembered Panzanella and thought I’d toss it with the rest of what was lying around and see if I could come up with a sattvic version of this salad.
You can use any bread, including gluten-free like this one. Mint is essential, and I added oregano to keep it Italian. But you could replace that with thyme, or tarragon, or even rosemary – whatever you have on hand. Be generous with the herbs. The flavor contrast with the fruit is enlivening.
Also, please use a good olive oil. Nothing too bitter, nor too bland. The fruit is delicate enough to need a truly refined oil.
You can make this up to 24 hours ahead. The longer you keep it before serving the more marinated and delicious it all becomes, but also a bit soggy. So, it’s a trade-off – presentation or taste? It’s good both ways really. You can’t go wrong.
Berry & Peach Panzanella
Stale Bread, torn into bite size pieces to make about 1-2 cups
1 carton Raspberries
a generous handful of Blackberries
1 ripe Peach
4-5 leaves of Dandelion, torn into small strips
6-8 Mint leaves
a small handful of Cilantro, optional
an even smaller handful of fresh Oregano
1/2 small Orange, juiced
1/2 Lemon, juiced
1 t Champagne Vinegar (or Red Wine Vinegar)
1 T extra virgin Olive Oil
fresh cracked black Pepper, optional
In a medium-sized salad bowl, place your bread pieces. Rinse your berries, pat dry, and add to the bowl. Cut the peach into small pieces on a cutting board, saving the juices, and pour all of it into the salad. Gently stir in the dandelion, mint, optionally the cilantro, and half the oregano, then toss with the juices of orange and lemon, the vinegar and olive oil. Season to taste with salt, optionally a dash of black pepper.
Cover and allow to stand for at least half an hour before serving so the bread soaks up the juices. Refrigerate if it will stand any longer. Once you are ready to serve, lightly toss to see if the bread has absorbed enough of the juices. If the bread looks dry, carefully add a bit more orange juice (or lemon, vinegar or olive oil depending on your taste), adding just enough, and not too much or it will turn into a soggy mess.
Serve on a bed of arugula, and garnish with the remaining oregano. Alternatively, skip the arugula and enjoy it for breakfast or along with these heathy crepes for a holiday brunch.
Happy Memorial Day weekend. In honor of the holiday and the opening of summer, I have a gift of what I call “sacred remembrance” for you. It’s a recording I did of some of my favorite verses from the Upanishads. Please leave a comment below by Monday night, and I will send it to you by email.
To all who serve and offer themselves to a greater cause, thank you. Namaste!