Article and Photos by Elizabeth Miller
Every other week or so, when I head to the farmers market with the intention of buying enough ingredients to make a solid meal for several people, for under $10, I find that it’s never tough to live up to this challenge. Since I enjoy the market so much, it has always been a pleasure to peruse the market in search of inspiration. This weekend, however, I was met with an unexpected glitch in my farmers market challenge: a sick child. To make a long story short, what started out as a nice outing to the market on a beautiful September afternoon very quickly turned into a race against time to get my child home and in bed before he collapsed in a ball of sweaty exhaustion.
So, there I was, sick child at home, and $5 worth of hastily purchased ingredients stuffed into my grocery bag. Having only come halfway towards my self-imposed budget, I assumed that this week’s market visit would have to be chalked up as an incomplete assignment. As I was putting my purchases away, however (and I would love to tell you from whom they came, but, really, I raced
out of that market so fast I barely registered even being there, much less whose market stands I visited), it slowly occurred to me that what I had purchased in haste could actually come together to make a perfect summer lunch. Bread and tomatoes never grow tired of being together, and by taking just a bit of time to caramelize the onion I had bought, the three items would complete a perfect panzanella.
And it was perfect, with the tomatoes so juicy that dressing the salad became completely unnecessary, and the onions so flavorful that the only additional flavoring I was compelled to add to the salad was a small handful of basil from our garden. It was a nice reminder that, though I often forget, sometimes the simplest things can be the most enjoyable. A truth held not only in life, but also in lunch.
Panzanella with Caramelized Onions
6 cups bread cubes, about 1” square (I got this much bread from 2/3 of a baguette)
1 medium onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ pounds ripe tomatoes (heirloom tomatoes if possible)
small handful of fresh basil leaves
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Slice onion in half from end to end, then slice the halves into thin ribs. In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion slices, along with a pinch of salt. When onions just begin to soften, lower heat to medium low. Cook onions, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, until they have turned a rich brown color. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside.
While onions are cooking, arrange the bread cubes on a large baking sheet. Bake the bread cubes for 5 minutes, until they have just started to become firm and crisp on the outside. The point is not to brown the bread cubes, but merely to dry them out slightly so they won’t become a soggy mess when tossed with the juicy tomatoes. When bread cubes have crisped sufficiently, remove from oven and set aside.
Slice tomatoes into large chunks. In a large bowl, combine bread cubes,
caramelized onions, and tomatoes. Roll basil leaves into a tight log, then slice into thin ribbons. Add basil to salad. Toss ingredients together, add salt and pepper to taste, then toss once more. The bread cubes should be slightly moist, but still hold their shape.
Serves 2 adults very generously, 4 adults as a hearty appetizer.