Panzanella [pantsaˈnɛlla] or panmolle [pamˈmɔlle] is a Tuscan salad of bread and tomatoes that’s popular in the summer. It includes chunks of soaked stale bread and tomatoes, sometimes also onions and basil, dressed with olive oil and vinegar. It is also popular in other parts of central Italy.
And, since I’m sooooo longing for the warmth of the summer season, always dreaming of the Italian coast, but still holding on to a lit bit of the winter chill that lingers in the Colorado air, I decided on a polenta panzanella for a little bit of a different swing on things.
The salad is super simple, as is the salty, spicy, creamy polenta. They key, though, to all of it, is salting and draining the tomatoes for the salad. This produces tons of flavorful liquid to build up a lot of vinaigrette—essential for coating the chunks of polenta.
Place tomatoes in a colander set over a bowl and season with 2 teaspoons kosher salt. Toss to coat. Set aside at room temperature to drain, tossing occasionally. Drain for a minimum of 15 minutes.
1/4 lb. spicy Italian sausage
1 tsp. olive oil
1 small shallot, minced
1/2 cup wild mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 Tbs. salted butter
2/3 cup polenta corn meal
1 cup vegetable broth
sea salt and pepper
2 large ripe plum tomatoes, cut into chunks, salted and drained
1 cup fresh baby spinach leaves
2 Tbs. fresh basil, thinly sliced
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and pepper
In a small fry pan, brown the Italian sausage and be sure to break all chunks up into little pieces with the back of a wooden spoon. Remove from pan, reserving the rendered fat. Add the tsp. of olive oil, along with the shallot and mushrooms. Sauté and stir until golden brown and a bit crispy.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the polenta and broth and stir continuously until the liquid is full incorporated and the polenta turns into a super soft mush.
Stir the cooked sausage and veggies into the creamy polenta.
Transfer the mixture to a glass or ceramic bread loaf pan, flattening out the top for a smooth, even surface. Chill for at least 4 hours, until the polenta is set and firm.
Remove colander with tomatoes from bowl with tomato juice. Place colander with tomatoes in the sink. Add the fresh basil, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Whisk constantly until emulsified. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees or broil. Bring the polenta to room temperature and cut into thick chunks. Transfer to a parchment lined baking dish and broil for about 3 minutes, just to crisp the edges of the polenta squares.
Toss with fresh baby spinach and drizzle with the tomatoes and dressing.
Imagine you’re on the Italian coast, sipping wine, basking in the sun, and enjoying life for all that amazingness that it is.