Berkeley Bowl Panzanella

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Last weekend we found ourselves in one of our top five places in the Bay Area. Golden Gate Bridge? Nah. Crissy Field? Nope. The Palace of Fine Arts? Nyet! Berkeley Bowl. Ye Hallowed grocery story, built in a former bowling alley, Berkeley Bowl is that famous joint right between the gourmet ghetto and campus, full of the most delicious produce. If it made any sort of sense at all – and if I didn’t have to fight through the equally famous Bay Area traffic – I would exclusively shop here.

Half the fun of Berkeley Bowl is knowing that you’re buying organic and local, because that’s a huge part of their produce section. The other half of the fun is that they have everything, so if you are suddenly struck by pea shoots and purple carrots, and then you want to build an Asian dish around those two things, they also have spring roll wrappers, soba noodles, seaweed, and whatever else your little heart might desire. Tears are shed at Berkeley Bowl, it’s just that amazing. If you would like to skip to the recipe, instead of listen me wax ecstatic about the Bizerkely Bowl, skip ahead. I’ll still be here, weeping into my tomatoes.

Tomatoes: a still life.

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Or, if you’re like us, you like any and all produce and you buy a little of everything. That’s exactly how our Berkeley Bowl Panzanella came to be: a pound of gorgeous heirloom tomatoes, a half pound of tricolor sweet peppers, a beautiful purple onion, some fresh basil, big heads of pinky organic garlic, and some obligatory citrus, because we’re right in that halfway place between winter and spring. Citrus, with its good friend kale, is coming out of our ears.

This panzanella also came to be as the love child of Smitten Kitchen, ye hallowed blogger who I love so much, and the summer panzanella from Outerlands, ye formerly hallowed and hard to get in to restaurant. While Deb’s panzanella is full-on summer, and Outerlands’ panzanella was always a bit fussy (squash blossoms, rosemary infusions) this one is more a humble dressed salad, winter citrus-infused, with the proud addition of warm homemade bread straight from the oven. A halfway meal between winter and spring that is secretly whispering, “Come on, Summer!”

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BERKELEY BOWL PANZANELLA

Salad Ingredients:

. 6-8 small tricolor sweet peppers

. 1 lb.  heirloom tomatoes (about three large tomatoes)

. 1 ripe avocado

. 1/3 purple/red onion, diced

. 1 freshly baked loaf of badass bread with italian seasonings added on top before baking

Dressing Ingredients:

. 1/2 lemon

. 2-3 cloves of garlic

. 1/4 cup EVOO

. 1/2 tablespoon dijon mustard

. Pinches of S&P

Optional garnishes: a small handful of sweet California basil and some grated cheese. We used a mix of pecorino and romano.

Instructions:

1. 4-6 hours before you eat, prep the bread dough and set aside.

2. 45 minutes before you’d like to eat, put the dough in the oven on 450, anywhere from 20-35 minutes. My oven takes a full 35.

3. Chop up all the ingredients to your liking. I diced my onions and peppers, cut my avocado into small cubes, and did some strange hybrid chop/dice with the tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes often have split skins and bulbous shapes, so just do the best you can to cut them into bite sized pieces.

2. Let the ingredients sit for a few minutes while you make the dressing. Whisk together the 1/4 cup of evoo, 2-3 (up to you) pressed garlic, 1/2 tablespoon of dijon, and then juice the half lemon right into it. Salt and pepper to your taste.

3. Remove your bread from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes. Once it’s cooled, slice off about a third of the loaf and rip it into pieces for giant croutons. Some would prefer crustier bread or day-old bread for these, but, um, FRESH BREAD. The fresh warmth is so delicious I just don’t see how anyone can argue.

4. Toss the croutons very lightly into some of the dressing, then add them to the salad. You can chiffonade some basil over the top, or top with some simple grated cheese.

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Et voila! This made three servings for us: two very hearty helpings for dinner (ahem) and enough to have the rest as a tasty side for lunch the next morning.

Enjoy it!

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