If there is one thing I love, it’s duck! Last year (started writing in 2010 but finished and posted 2013), the wife and I went to Italy- what a culinary delight! We had loads of fantastic meals that just don’t compare to the made from mass-grown foods here in the United States.
While in Tuscany, on a wine tour (highly recommended), we had Panzanella as an appetizer. What a truly fantastic and simple dish, especially when made with fresh ingredients. With the exception of the bread (which my wife hasn’t graduated to baking individual rolls yet), balsamic vinegar and the duck, the ingredients in this salad were grown by me, purchased from a farmer’s market or acquired at the greatest spice house ever, Penzeys. You can skip the duck and eat it with no protein or substitute it for canned tuna in oil (not water).
2 Ciabatta rolls
3 Medium tomatoes
4 Salad pickles (or two small cucumbers)
1 Onion (Walla-Walla or Vidalia recommended)
1 1lb duck breast (Muscovy or Moulard recommended)
12+ Fresh basil leaves
1/4 Cup good olive oil
1/4 Cup good balsamic vinegar
Minimum of the following (All from Penzeys of course!):
1/2 Teaspoon Kosher Flake Salt
1/2 Teaspoon ground pepper (blend or black only)
1/2 Teaspoon dried basil
1/2 Teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 Teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 Teaspoon roasted garlic flakes (garlic powder works too)
Mise En Place:
You should have a good, sharp knife for this. I use several as a matter of fact. For the salad preparation, I use the Shun Ultimate Utility knife because it’s razor sharp and serrated. This is useful for both the bread and tomatoes. For the other items in the salad portion, this knife doesn’t make a huge difference.
The first thing to do is to prepare the Ciabatta rolls. Typically, in Italy, these rolls would be stale for this salad. Why? Because this is what Italians did with their leftovers! If you wish to leave your rolls unpackaged for a week or so prior to making this salad then be my guest. Otherwise, you can do what I suggest below.
The rolls need to be cut into small, bite-sized pieces. The only utensil needed to eat this salad should be a fork or a spoon (though I like to use a shovel!). To prepare the bread, first cut the roll into strips lengthwise and then cross-cut the strips width-wise making the bite-size cubes of bread.
Ensure that your studio audience gets a taste along the way. They can help you determine whether or not you are on the right track.
After you have cut the bread into cubes, preheat the oven at 200 degrees. Spread out the bread on a baking sheet. After the oven has heated appropriately, turn it off. Yes. off. Then place the sheet with the bread on it into the oven. I know what you are thinking.. “Why would I put bread into a heated oven that’s off?!?” The answer is simple. Remember I said that the Italians made this with stale bread? What happens when bread gets stale? It dries out. The reason you turn the oven off is because you don’t want to toast the bread – just dry it out.
Whilst the bread is drying out, you can prepare the other ingredients.
First, we are going to prepare the tomatoes. The ones that are being used for the photo spread are home-grown heirloom Brandywines. What a great tomato! Start by cutting them in half followed by cutting out the stem portion of the fruit (yes, tomato is a fruit!) on both halves. Cut each half into small slices and then cut once or twice across the slices depending upon how large or small of chunks you wish to have in your salad. I generally do two cross-cuts.
Put them in a stainless steel or glass bowl then sprinkle them with the salt. This will cause the juices of tomato to start to be brought out giving extra flavor to the salad. Consequently, the salt will be drawn into the tomato! Thanks osmosis!
Onion – some people love ‘em and some people hate ‘em. I am in the “love ‘em” camp but I won’t make you use too many onions. I use 4 thin slices of onion.
And when I say “thin”, I mean two to three times the thickness of the knife blade or about 1/8th of an inch. This is precisely why we need a sharp knife. You’d never be able to cut it that thin with a dull knife.
Just like the bread and tomatoes, make cuts from end to end and then cross-cut in the opposite direction as shown in the following image. However, if you wish to “French” the onion instead, feel free to do so. Just make sure that the onion pieces are small.
For this version, I have chosen to use salad pickles- some call them Kirbies (don’t ask ‘cause I don’t know). Part of the reason I use these is because the seeds are barely noticeable. If you exchange the pickles with cucumbers, you might want to cut out the seeds during this preparation. First things first – cut them in half. Then, yep- you guessed it, cut them in half again! At this point, if you are using cucumbers, you can de-seed the spears by cutting them out! Duh… Next, coarsely chop the spears in to chunks like so… (Psst… Cross-cut…)
More tasting… Please? Wow.. These pictures are before the kitchen rehab. God, that linoleum was awful!
Next, let’s work on the basil. After cleaning and drying, pile up the leaves one on top of the other. The reason is because we want to chiffonade (cut into ribbons) them.
To chiffonade, roll the leaves up into a tight “tube” and then cut across it. I generally don’t cut off too much of the stem as it is edible.
You can make the ribbons as large or as small as you wish. Also, if you want to use more than the dozen, go for it! I am a large fan of big, bold favors!
After all the prep work is done, mix the cucumber (pickle, kerby), oinion and basil in the bowl with the tomatoes. Mix well so what remaining salt gets on to the cucumber and onion to extract and impart their flavors.
Okay, now that all that is done.. It’s time for the grill! I love duck… Did I say that? Yes.. I did and I do! I have had great luck with this brand and type of duck. However, if you have a preferred duck boob you like to use, be my guest!
When I grill my duck, I generally heat my grill to the hottest it will go. At the time I took these pictures, it was my old grill which got to about 800 degrees. I have since gotten a new one and it has more BTUs! At any rate, I will throw the duck breast on there skin side up until the flames start from the fat oozing from it. At that point, I will turn off the burners and continue to move and flip the breast until it’s at the appropriate done-ness. Personally, I like mine rare. If you’ve never cooked duck breast before, cook it like you would a steak.
For the duck preparation, I use two different knifes – both sharpened like razors. I use a Wusthof Classic 3 1/2” pairing knife to remove the skin form the breast and then a J. A. Henckels 7” hollow ground santoku to slice the breast. Wow, I don’t much use these knives any more either.. I have since moved, almost exclusively to Shun knifes. But I digress..
Remove the skin!! WHAT?!? Yes, my wife cannot stand skin, fat, or bones in her food. Don’t ask me why… She doesn’t know either. So, in order to appease her (Happy wife = happy life), I remove the skin. But, please keep it on if you enjoy duck skin!
After removing the skin, slice the breast in to strips and then then cross-cut them. Look at that rare bird! Mmmmmmmm… My mouth is watering…
Don’t forget to give tastes to the studio audience. Isn’t that yummy!?! Duckie! Does this shot make me look gray?
After you have prepared the duck, mix it into the bowl with the other ingredients. Don’t forget to include the juices from the cutting board! Now is a good time to add the spices listed above. Keep in mind, that these a just guidelines not rules. If you prefer your flavors to be more bold as I do, then add more than the suggested size. I am a firm believer that cooking is all about creativity and experimentation.
Lastly, before adding the bread, add the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I cannot stress the fact that you should add good EVOO and good balsamic. Adding marginal or low quality products will only bring down the wonderful flavors of the fresh food.
After mixing everything together well, remove the bread cubes from the oven (if you haven’t already) and mix them into the salad. The bread should start to get soft again because it will suck in the juices of the other items in the bowl. This is the desired effect!
Finally, plate and serve!! Personally, a nice full bodied red wine would be my choice, but white would do as well. If you aren’t a wine drinker, then whatever liquids you wish to imbibe during the consummation of this meal is your wish..
This recipe serves 2 with leftovers (and I am a PIG when it comes to eating this!), 3 with reasonable, wife-sized portions, 4 as a side item, or more as an appetizer.