Make the Most of the Tomato Boom

2013's substantial summer signaled success for tomato plants in home garden plots around Portland. Now that the harvest is peaking, it's time to make panzanella!

By Kristin Belz September 17, 2013 Published in the September 2010 issue of Portland Monthly

Heirloom tomatoes come in a wide variety of color, shape and taste, but all of them trace back to a handful of seeds.

An informal survey of Portland’s home gardens this summer proves a near miracle has occurred: tomatoes are doing well!

Usually even expert backyard gardeners in our region admit to having troubles with tomatoes, because they—the tomatoes, that is—need extensive, hot sun. But this year, the past weekend notwithstanding, we’ve had plentiful days without rain plus stretches of 90+ temperatures.

The tomato gods have smiled upon us. so it's time to summon the no-cook tomato salad recipes, especially panzanella, an Italian favorite. 

Panzanella is a traditional Italian way to use the remnants of crusty bread, though the first such thrifty bread salads were pre-tomato era, and thus depended on onion, cucumber and other vegetables tossed with olive oil and vinegar to revive the stale loaves. Tomatoes do an even better job, though, with their flavorful juices.

It's time to head out to the garden (or the farmers market) and try this classic, unfussy panzanella recipe from Carlucci's in Chicago. Happy harvesting!

Carlucci’s panzanella 

(Italian bread and tomato salad) from Chef Kevin Provenzano

  • 4 cups bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (day-old crusty Italian or French bread works best)
  • About 1-1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cucumber, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1/3 cup chopped black olives
  • 10 large basil leaves, stacked and sliced thin
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano (or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano)
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus extra for topping
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Toss everything in a bowl and let marinate at room temperature for at least 1 hour. When ready to serve, toss lightly and check the seasoning. Divide into 6 bowls and drizzle a little extra-virgin olive oil on top. 6 servings.

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