Monday, August 22, 2016

Pure Food: Panzanella Salad


In this day and age, there are more and more issues coming to light concerning our diets. Every day, it seems, there are stories in the news about additives, pesticides, GMOs, and more that are causing detrimental affects on people's health. Food has become so processed, that the majority of people's diets consist of foods so far removed from their natural states.

On the flip side, more people are now becoming aware of these issues, and are making adjustments to the way they eat. They are stocking up on whole foods, and avoiding overly processed alternatives. While I do feel it can be very difficult to completely avoid processed foods, limiting them is at least a very good start in the right direction.


Kurt Beecher Dammeier, owner and founder of Beecher's Handmade Cheese in Seattle and New York City, has recently released a cookbook entitled Pure Food. Its prime focus is on replacing processed foods with real, pure, natural foods made with non-chemical ingredients. Reading food labels can be truly shocking, so cooking "pure food" is a wonderful solution to creating a healthier lifestyle.


Kurt write extensively about his own journey toward a "pure food" diet. The introductory chapters in the book are truly enlightening. Did you know, "about 70 percent of the calories we eat today come from highly processed foods, foods that didn't even exist before the twentieth century"? That's pretty scary.


The book continues on to share over 80 recipes, which are presented in a series of recipe threads starting with a main meal component, and then providing additional recipes to use that first dish to create additional dishes. For example, the Braised Beef Chuck Roast can be served as is, and then leftovers can be utilized to make either Beef and Mushroom Lasagna or Three-Alarm Beef Chili.

Photo courtesy of BenBella Books

There are definitely pros and cons to this. On the one hand, I love that you can make one dish, and then extend it to make other dishes, making your leftovers way more interesting. Oh the other hand, that Beef and Mushroom Lasagna looks FANTASTIC, but there are essentially six other recipes you would need to make to put it together: Beecher's Flagship Cheese Sauce, Roasted Mushrooms, Roasted Onions, the Braised Beef Chuck Roast, and Spicy Oven-Dried Tomato Sauce (which starts with yet another recipe for Oven-Dried Tomatoes--see recipe below).

Don't get me wrong. I'm all about making food from scratch, but this is just something to be aware of. These aren't necessarily quick and easy meals, but that's not expected when you are cooking "pure foods" from scratch. I still plan to make that lasagna one of these days, so it certainly won't stop me!

Oven-Dried Tomatoes

With that said, there are still lots of recipes in the book that are a bit more streamlined. To prove that I selected the Panzanella Salad to make. It's the perfect summer dish to utilize locally grown, in season, ripe and juicy tomatoes.

Photo courtesy of BenBella Books

I actually halved the entire recipe to yield 3 servings, but it was plenty as a side dish for 5 people! I also scaled down the Oven-Dried Tomatoes recipe below to yield what I needed for the Panzanella Salad (I actually used my toaster oven set to very low so I wouldn't have to heat my large oven for so many hours on a hot summer day!), and used Dijon mustard instead of grainy mustard because that's what I had. The only other change I made was omitting the cheese because my mom isn't a fan of cooked cheese (don't ask).

Before tossing with the dressing

This panzanella salad is delicious! It tastes like chopped up bruschetta, one of my favorite Italian appetizers. We actually enjoyed this salad served alongside grilled steak, just as the book suggests, and it really is a perfect compliment. The olive bread I purchased was a little weak on the olives, so I'd look to source a better quality olive bread next time (or make it myself if I plan ahead), but I really love the uniqueness of this panzanella. I've never seen it made with olive bread, and I've never seen it made using a dressing featuring homemade oven-dried tomatoes!


If you would like to learn more about improving your diet by cutting out processed foods and focusing more on "pure foods," then this is a great book to not only educate you on the reality in which we are now living, but to also provide great recipes to get you started in the right direction. I do have plans to make more dishes from the book, namely that utterly fabulous looking Beef and Mushroom Lasagna. I'm thinking it will taste especially perfect this fall when the weather starts to cool down. Comfort food galore!

Panzanella Salad
Serves 6
(From Pure Food)

This salad is great alongside grilled steak during tomato season. The dressing gets its complex tomato flavor from Oven-Dried Tomatoes, which have a heightened sweetness and depth of flavor compared to raw ones. I usually like to use heirloom tomatoes of various colors for this salad, but feel free to get creative with any variety at the peak of its season.

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons dried Italian herb blend
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 loaf olive bread, sliced into 1-inch cubes (about 1 pound)
1 1/2 ounces Beecher’s Smoked Flagship cheese, grated (about 1/3 cup) (cheddar would be an acceptable substitute)
3 ounces Oven-Dried Tomatoes (about 1/3 cup) (see recipe below)
1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1 teaspoon grainy mustard
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
3 1/2 pounds tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups torn basil leaves (1 large bunch)
1/2 cup thinly shaved sweet onion (about 1/2 onion)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix 1/3 cup of the oil, Italian herbs, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and pepper. Add the bread and sprinkle the cheese over the bread. Toss the mixture until evenly coated. Spread the bread mixture evenly on a baking sheet and bake until dried on the outside but a little soft in the center, about 15 minutes.

To a medium bowl, add the remaining 1/3 cup oil, Oven-Dried Tomatoes, balsamic and rice vinegars, mustard, oregano, Tabasco, and the remaining salt. Using an immersion blender or a food processor, either blend or process the mixture until smooth.

In a large bowl, toss together the cubed tomatoes, basil, and onion with the bread cubes and dressing until well combined. Let rest for 10 minutes and then re-toss before serving.

Oven-Dried Tomatoes
Makes about 1 1/3 pounds
(From Pure Food)

Long, slow oven drying concentrates tomatoes into sweeter and more flavorful versions of themselves. Their texture is softer than that of a sun-dried tomato, but meatier than a raw or stewed tomato. This versatile ingredient can be served alongside eggs, on salads, or on sandwiches. Chop and add them to potato or pasta salad, or simply toss them into hot pasta with kalamata olives and fresh herbs. These tomatoes are also an integral component in my Spicy Oven-Dried Tomato Sauce and pair nicely with Farro Cakes with Bacon and Parsley. I prefer using Roma (aka plum) tomatoes, but practically any tomato will do. Cherry or grape varieties make for a tarter, lighter variation, but be sure to scale the cooking time down to account for their smaller size and faster drying time.

3 pounds (12 to 15) plum tomatoes, cut crosswise into 3 round pieces
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for storing (4 to 16 tablespoons)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Evenly distribute the tomatoes in one layer, cut side up, on the baking sheet. (You may need more than one baking sheet.) Drizzle 4 teaspoons of the olive oil and sprinkle salt over the cut surfaces of the tomatoes.

Roast in the oven until the tomatoes shrink by half, 4 to 6 hours. Remove from the oven and either serve immediately or set aside to cool.

To store, put the cooled tomatoes in an airtight container with enough olive oil to cover. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Return to room temperature before serving.

Pro Tip: Use the tomato-enriched storing oil as a finishing oil or base for salad dressing.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.

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