Sometimes experimenting with flavors pays off. This week for Gutsy Cooks Club Marie from Weekend Viands set us on a path for making Panzanella Salad. We are fans of this salad especially during the summer months.
But to be honest we had just arrived home from a 5 day road trip with a pretty sick pup so we were feeling mostly just 'done' and in need for comfort. I had ran to the store to get rice and lean ground beef to start the bland diet for our pup that the vet recommended and I decided to pick up everything to make a grilled tomato shrimp spaghetti. Obviously I had forgot about this week's Gutsy Cooks Club assignment. Once I did remember I quickly went into "Gutsy" mode and started thinking how to merge my original pasta idea with the panzanella.
I decided to essentially go with a grilled version and add some shrimp. Hey, it's worth giving a shot. I knew the flavors would mesh well and one of the things I'm not a huge fan of in a panzanella salad is the mealy texture. So I thought grilling the bread might help with that. I know this makes it not so traditional and for panzanella purists it might even be sac-religious but hey that's what our Gutsy Cooks Club is all about.
I started by prepping all my flavors for the salad. Here's new tip I learned. To keep your wooden skewers from charring up on the grill it helps to soak them in water. I never seem to have a vessel long enough to soak them in. But a wine bottle is the perfect size. And we always happen to have an empty wine bottle or two laying around here.
I filled one with water and put the skewers inside. I had to put a little weight on the top to hold them down but this is the best vessel I've found for this purpose thus far. I pulled some basil off my plant that was begging for water when we returned from our trip today.
I first wrapped my garlic in foil and got it onto the grill to get it good and soft to make the anchovy, caper, garlic paste that I used to flavor the dressing.
I got everything grilling and started my dressing following the paste technique from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan using anchovies, garlic and capers.
I didn't use anchovy fillets but rather the paste we use often for making Cesar dressing. I also roasted the garlic to get the sweet flavor too.
I ground it all together and made it a paste to add to the dressing.
Once I started seeing how lovely and charred the tomatoes were getting I knew this grilling idea was going to work well.
And look at those grill marks on the bread about this time G was digging the idea even better too. Marie recommended making the homemade Olive Oil Bread for the salad. There were about 100 reasons why that wasn't going to happen for our attempt this week. But it was a thought to ponder if I was making the salad in late September when baking in the oven might be more logical than it was today. I used Greg's favorite Artisan Asiago bread with a chewy crust and heavy structure since we were looking to avoid the mushy texture.
Once the shrimp and the dressing were done it was time to start layering the salad in my favorite panzanella salad bowl. I started with the grilled bread.
Followed by the slightly charred and almost caramelized red onions.
And then the most perfectly grilled tomatoes that just slid off the skewer and immediately made the salad smell fantastic.
Followed finally by the grilled shrimp and basil.
The last touch was slowly adding the dressing and tossing carefully.
It was immediately beautiful and so aromatic.
This was a huge hit, the bread perfectly absorbed the dressing and flavors but kept it's structure enough to not turn into mush.
And the grilled onions and tomatoes made the most luscious flavors together. And the shrimp just made it feel like more of a complete meal.
We really loved this salad, we wish it wouldn't of been so hot out so we would of had more of an appetite since the leftovers probably are not going to taste so hot tomorrow. But it was so good we just had to test it out.
To go to Marie's blog to see her version go here.
To see the original recipe from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan go here.