Raisins are tiny yet divisive. During my childhood, the love them or hate them discussion generally arose when discussing meatballs. For my Neapolitan grandfather, the ideal version included raisins (and pine nuts), but he rarely convinced my grandmother to prepare them this way. In honor of his preference, I created a raisin bread panzanella, an update to the classic Italian dish.
Before you prepare this recipe, take some time to find the best, crusty raisin bread available. The more common, cinnamon-swirled variety is not what you want to find. Instead, search for a heartier loaf, preferably one made with whole wheat flour, which adds to the texture and flavor.
6 cups (loosely packed) crusty raisin bread cut into 1-inch cubes
4 medium tomatoes
½ red onion
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper
Originally made with leftover, stale bread, panzanella is a simply dressed tomato and bread salad. The sherry vinegar in this version is the perfect complement to the raisins, and the red onion balances the sweetness perfectly. If you select a hearty loaf to work with, the end result is more savory than sweet and makes a great summer lunch on its own or a side dish for dinner.
Since the raisin bread baked at my local small grocery never lasts long when I bring it home, I never have stale bread for this recipe. Instead, I spread the bread cubes on a baking tray, drizzle them with olive oil, and then lightly toast them in a 275 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes depending on how dry the bread is before I begin. We will be encouraging the cubes to soak up the delicious dressing and tomato juices, so we want them to be a little crunchy but not fully toasted.
In the meantime, whisk together the olive oil, sherry vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste and set aside. Cut the tomatoes into 1-inch pieces. Slice the red onion into very thin half-moons.
Once the bread cubes have been removed from the oven and cooled, toss them gently with the tomatoes, red onion, and vinaigrette. Allow the panzanella to sit at room temperature for about an hour before serving.