Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A starring role for a supporting cast member

Bread: it's the staff of life. Delicious and nutritious (despite what those Atkins people say), we all love it, we all crave it. But usually, we relegate it to some minor position in our meal; not even as important as a side dish, it's consumed to stave off hunger pangs at the beginning of a meal, or nibbled as a sort of afterthought alongside. It's time to bring bread into the fold, folks, and I aim to do that today by sharing two recent recipes that starred bread as the main character, or at least the equally-billed costar.

First up is a quick lunch I whipped up after returning home from my CSA pickup one week. I had gotten a bunch of beets, and wanted to figure out a way to use the greens, whose flavor I adore. I didn't have much else in the house besides a loaf of whole wheat sourdough and some eggs. So I thought to sauté up the greens and pile them on top of the toasted bread, crowning everything with a runny-yolked poached egg. Here's what it looked like:

And yesterday evening, as I was biking home from a day of new apartment-related errands, I was struck suddenly with August Tomato Fever. It's something we all get around this time of year, I think: the unstoppable urge to eat fresh, sweet and acidic summer tomatoes, all the time, for the rest of the season and, if possible, early into the next one. I realized I hadn't had any local tomatoes yet this year, and was able to find some beautiful mini heirloom ones when I stopped into the Co-op. I didn't want to do much to them--just cut them up, maybe add some basil--and that's when it occurred to me to make a panzanella salad for dinner. One of those classic Italian dishes that comes from poverty (like the bread soup ribollita or pasta with breadcrumbs), this recipe doesn't call for much besides bread (stale, if you have it!), tomatoes, basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar--plus, more luxuriously if you've got it, fresh mozzarella cheese. I added a little bit of red onion and lemon zest to mine, to brighten the flavors, and what I got was a big bowl of summer, bursting with the brightness of tomatoes and the richness of good olive oil--all without lighting a single burner:

Garlic Toast with Sautéed Beet Greens and a Poached Egg
Serves 1, for lunch or a light meal


- 1 small bunch of beet greens, rinsed and drained, with any large stems removed, chopped
- 1 thick slice of good bread such as sourdough or whole wheat
- 1 egg
- 1 clove garlic, peeled, plus 1 clove chopped
- Any light vinegar, such as white vinegar, white wine vinegar, or rice wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp.
- Olive oil
- Salt
- Pepper
- Red pepper flakes, optional


1. Prepare the beet greens: heat a small amount of olive oil in pan set over a medium flame. Add chopped garlic plus a sprinkling of red pepper flakes, if desired. After about 20 seconds, add the beet greens and cook, stirring occasionally, until greens are tender, about 6 - 8 minutes.
Season greens to taste and set aside.
2. In the meantime, work on the egg and the toast. Set a small pot of water to the boil, then drop to a simmer. While waiting, toast your bread, then rub it on one side with the garlic clove.
3. When water is at a gentle simmer, add the 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar. Crack egg into a small dish and carefully lower the egg into the water. You can use a spoon to gently encourage the white of the egg to encircle the yolk. Cook at a simmer for about 2 to 3 minutes depending on how runny you like your yolk, then remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
4. Assemble the dish: heap the beet greens on top of the garlic-rubbed side of the toast, then add the poached egg. Season egg with salt and pepper, and eat immediately.

Panzanella (Italian Bread Salad with Tomatoes and Mozzarella)
Serves 1 as a main dish, 2 as a side


- 1/2 loaf of good bread, such as sourdough or Italian-style, stale is fine, cut into large cubes
- 1/2 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved, or any good ripe tomatoes, cut into chunks, about 2 tomatoes
- 1/2 bunch of fresh basil, thinly sliced
- 1/4 red onion, cut into a very small dice
- Zest of half a lemon
- 1 ball of fresh mozzarella, cut into chunks the same size as the tomatoes
- Salt
- Pepper
- Olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar

1. Toast your bread: place bread on a small tray and toast in a toaster oven or the regular oven until just crisp, about 4 minutes. Set aside.
2. Toss tomatoes with a small amount of salt and pepper, and set aside for a few minutes to allow the tomatoes to "marinate" and give off some juice.
3. Combine bread, tomatoes, basil, red onion, and lemon zest in a bowl. Toss with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste: you want the salad to be nice and juicy, and will probably need around 4 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon vinegar.
4. Just before serving, arrange the mozzarella over the top of the salad.