Lost In Translation: Panzanella With Golden Beets and Walnuts
It was one of those awkward, pregnant kind of pauses.
It wasn’t that I expected her to know what it was. I’d never heard of it myself until last summer. No, I simply hate the English translation: bread salad.
Panzanella sounds sexy. In fact, I think all Italian foods sound sexy. Remember Kevin Kline as Otto in the movie a Fish Called Wanda? “Parmigiano,” he cried as he sniffed his armpit. Okay, pardon the possibly obscure and somewhat crass digression. Let’s get back to the matter at hand. “Bread salad” sounds like the kind of dish you make when you’re desperate, when all you have is bread. Bread salad is probably what my mom had in her lunch sack when she was walking to school–”uphill both ways, in the snow, barefoot.” I’m not sure why the words, which are quite lovely on their own, sound so unappealing to me when combined to describe a single dish. “Bread” when warm and crusty is my favorite food group, and “salad” makes my head spin with tantalizing possibilities. Call it what you will; panzanella is anything but a dish of desperation.
Yes, panzanella is all about the bread–lightly toasted in good olive oil–but the bread is merely the beginning. Think of it as a blank canvas. The most common version is made with fresh tomatoes, a light vinaigrette, perhaps a bit of basil and cucumber with a few capers, anchovies, or olives thrown in for a salty measure. Panzanella is a patient dish too, the kind that improves as it sits, those crunchy bread cubes soaking up the garlicky dressing.
I’m not usually one to muck with perfection, but we recently had a run on golden beets in our garden. Score! I love roasted beets nearly as much as warm, crusty bread. Was it possible that my favorite summer salad could get even better? The answer is yes. The result is a close relative of my familiar favorite with a bit more sweetness from the roasting of the beets. The feta gives it the briny punch I love. And the toasted walnuts take it to a whole new level. (I think of toasted walnuts the way many people think about bacon–there isn’t much that they don’t improve.)
Say it with me.
Now, try it. I think you’ll agree that something indescribably delicious can get lost in translation.
Panzanella With Golden Beets, Walnuts, and Tarragon
5 small beets (Mine were about 2″ in diameter.)
5 cups 1″ bread cubes (Stale French or Italian breads work well.)
2 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 large garlic clove, pressed or finely minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
1/3 cup walnuts, lightly toasted
3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, roughly chopped
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Wrap beets in foil and roast for 30-60 minutes depending on their size. If they yield slightly when pressed, they’re done. Remove the beets from the oven, let cool, peel, and slice into 3/4″ cubes.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the bread cubes and cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently until nicely browned.
- For the vinaigrette, whisk together the remaining olive oil, vinegar, garlic, mustard, salt, and pepper.
- Place the toasted bread cubes, beets, walnuts, and tarragon in a large bowl. Add the vinaigrette and toss to combine.
- Wait, if you can, for at least 30 minutes so the flavors can meld together and the vinaigrette can soak into the bread.
- Sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese immediately before serving.