If I were smart, I'd always have bread in the freezer.
I buy a good, crusty loaf to serve with dinner once every ten days or so, and we rarely finish the whole thing. The heel, or sometimes half a loaf, gets wrapped up and popped into a ziploc. Then placed on the counter.
I'll eat it tomorrow, I tell myself.
You know where this is going, don't you? I never eat that old bread. It sits there day after day, growing progressively staler. Soon it's rock-hard. Finally, after a week or so, I throw in the towel and chuck it in the trash.
I should freeze it. I should just toss the bread in the freezer at the end of the night. Fact is, fresh bread freezes exceptionally well and takes only a few minutes to defrost. You just have to watch yourself or you'll have little baggies of proliferating bread heels overtaking your freezer like so many parmesan rinds in your cheese drawer. (Am I the only one who saves parmesan rinds because I was told it was a good idea? I ALWAYS forget to toss them into the soup pot. I'll be sitting there smugly eating minestrone and think, again, idiot!)
Perhaps I have self-esteem issues.
I'm in New York this week visiting family, and my stepmother Barbara had a gorgeous, absolute knockout loaf of olive bread tucked away in the freezer. This was no leftover heel or torn up, half-eaten, manhandled chunk. It was a whole, pristine loaf with glistening black olives cryogenically preserved from their dewy days of yore. She must have frozen it the day she bought it. Smart lady.
My sister Julie and I turned it into a bread salad for dinner. It was the ideal precursor to a boatload of coconut palmiers. (You know the mindgame: salad for dinner means extra room for dessert.) We expounded on the olive theme and paired the bread with an additional handful of black olives and a quick olive vinaigrette. The pine nuts were Julie's idea, and they were an inspired addition.
This salad also celebrates fresh August corn, which Barbara showed me how to microwave right in its husks.
If you've got some bread on hand, this recipe's for you. Of course, you can always buy a fresh loaf and either make the salad right away, or eat a little bread with dinner, learn from my idiocy, and toss the rest in the freezer. Stale bread also works fine, but good luck cutting it if it's more than 2 days old.
Recipe for Olive Panzanella
Panzanella is a classic Italian bread salad. Make sure to use a good, hard loaf rather than something that will dissolve into a pitiful mush once it makes contact with the vinaigrette. Pairing the bread with summer produce -- tomatoes, fresh corn, cucumbers -- yields a fresh, bright salad that contrasts beautifully with all the briny olives. Get out your biggest bowl.
For the salad:
4 ears corn
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed
2 cucumbers, halved lengthwise, seeded, peeled (if desired), and sliced into half-moons, or 1 English cucumber (unpeeled, unseeded, but still sliced)
3 medium-size summer tomatoes, a mix of yellow and red preferred
1 small red onion, diced
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
For the vinaigrette:
1/4 cup olives
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and pepper, to taste
1 loaf olive bread, torn into rough, slightly-larger-than bite-size pieces
15 fresh basil leaves
Bring a small pot of lightly salted water to a boil. You'll use this in a minute for the green beans.
Place the corn in a microwave-safe dish. Keep it in its husks, and don't touch the silks. Most microwaves have a button allowing you to disable the turntable, so go ahead and push it. Cook corn, uncovered, on full power for 5 minutes. Carefully turn the dish around, and flip each ear of corn over as well. Microwave an additional 5 minutes or until done. (Press a fingernail into a kernel to test. Be VERY careful when peeling back the husks because the corn will be extremely hot.) Lay ears on a rack to begin cooling.
(If you want to boil the corn instead, feel free. Just use a large pot in step one instead of a small.)
Blanch the green beans for two minutes, drain, then plunge in ice water. Drain again and pat dry. Cut in half, and place in the serving bowl. Add the cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions, 1/2 cup of olives, and pine nuts.
Very carefully peel off the corn husks and remove the silks. (They come off easily.) Rinse the cobs under cold water if they're still too hot to handle. Once cool, use a sharp knife to cut the kernels from the cob directly over the salad bowl.
Combine all the vinaigrette ingredients in a small mini-chop or blender. Process until emulsified and the olives break down fully and incorporate. Pour into salad and toss well with tongs.
Toss in the bread and basil, give a final stir, and serve.