I like cucumber in my panzanella and prefer to vary the cheese; sometimes I use thin slices of Grana Padano or ricotta salata; other times, I prefer fresh mozzarella or a spoonful of burrata. When heirloom tomatoes are available, I must use those. Panzanella is great by itself or with a piece of grilled fish or meat.
8 oz two-day-old country-style bread, crusts removed, cut into half-inch cubes (about eight c)
2 lbs ripe tomatoes, preferably a mix of heirloom, cored, seeded, and cut into chunks (about 4 c)
1 c chopped red onion
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lb fresh basil leaves, coarsely shredded
1 (three-ounce piece) ricotta salata (or one small ball fresh mozzarella or burrata)
Toss the bread, tomatoes, and onion in a large bowl until well mixed. Drizzle the olive oil and vinegar over the salad, and toss to mix thoroughly. Season with a half-teaspoon salt and several grinds of black pepper. Let sit until the dressing moistens the bread, about 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how dry the bread was. If the bread isn’t soaked after 30 minutes, you can drizzle with a few tablespoons of water and toss again.
When ready to serve, sprinkle with the basil and shave the ricotta salata over the salad with a vegetable peeler. Season again with salt and pepper, toss gently, and serve. A spring of basil placed in the center of the bowl makes for a great presentation.
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Fortunato Nicotra, Executive Chef, Felidia