Panzanella Audible

Panzanella is one of my favorite dishes to make for others because it is far and away one of the most delicious dishes that I serve. I know they'll love it; who wouldn't love a gorgeous bread salad made just my special way. I was going to impress Julia and her Mom with my traditional version last week, but one of my key ingredients mysteriously went missing: the bread. Without my baguette, I was first forlorn, as I thought panzanella night was lost. But then I had a new idea that would make everything work with just a little twist: bagels.

Has anyone ever made bagel panzanella before? Well, I'm not sure. A Google search revealed exactly zero matches. It makes some sense, but since I'm used to making the salad with small chunks of bread that I toast, dress and toss with the salad, I needed to work out a slightly different game plan. I had three sesame bagels that I sliced in half, and I decided to leave them that large and grill them dry on my grill pan until there was some dark color on each side. Once done I put them all in a bowl and added several tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil and a similar amount of red wine vinegar. I also added a pinch of sea salt and a large grinding of black pepper. Finally I added about two tablespoons of sesame seeds and a pinch of dried oregano. I thought this little twist would complement the sesame bagels well and give it a little more character. I tossed the warm bagels around in the dressing until they had evenly absorbed most of the dressing. I removed the bagels and plated two halves onto each of our plates.

Normally I would have tossed the bread in the salad greens, but with large bagels, I needed to do it in two steps. Following the bagel dressing, I moved on to the salad itself, adding several cups of baby arugula, two chopped vine tomatoes and half of a red onion to the remaining dressing in the bowl that the bagels had been in. Of course, most of the dressing had been absorbed, so I needed to redress the greens, tomatoes and onions. I made the exact same dressing in a small bowl and redressed the greens, but only lightly.

I covered the bagel “croutons” with large amounts of salad and served the still-yummy sesame bagel panzanella to great reception. It may have been a little harder to eat (fork AND knife), but the bagels were still crunchy and crispy and filled with that amazing flavor of my traditional panzanella croutons. If anything, this actually looked and felt even more like a full meal than the original version. I really liked the addition of the sesame to the flavor and might go forth with that twist. Still, to me, the simplicity of my panzanella is what makes it perfect. A full-bodied vinegar-rich flavor encompassing good bread, good greens, fresh tomatoes and crispy, tangy red onions is all that is needed to make it an awesome dish. No grilled vegetables, no cheese, no egg needed (though I think I've tried all those things since they seem popular in the panzanella world). That pure simplicity is what I crave, so when I want just that, I make it happen, even when I have to call an audible from the original to get it done.

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