Monday, September 19, 2011

Panzanella or How I Came to Love Running

So, let's be clear: I'm not a runner.

If you've seen me, you know this. I don't have a runner's body: there is nothing lithe about me. I weigh about 160 pounds at 5'8", my thighs are dangerous weapons that could crush a small kitten, and one would never describe my movement as "sprightly".  Punctuated by moments of grace, I lumber through a space on ponderous feet, making a lot of noise without meaning to, and probably accidentally breaking something in the process. So, how I came to take up running I have never understood, and yet, 10 years down the road I'm running more than ever.  What started as an extremely cheap way to keep my ever-growing bulk at bay has become a past-time of sorts.

Panzanella - Tuscan Tomato Bread Salad
Not only is my husband a runner, he is good at it, and he loves it. When he suggested early on in our relationship that I try and run the Charlottesville 10 Miler, my response was simple: "Uh, why?"  And yet, there I was trolling the Internets (perhaps at work) in January, looking at 10 miler training programs and thinking, "Well, I could do that."  And so I did. In March. Ran 10 miles. And then promptly signed up for the Richmond Half Marathon.

Okay, okay, but here's the SECRET that I've learned from talking to long distance runners and pretending to be one: when you're training for a race, when you're running 20 or 30 or 40 miles a week, when your long run is 7 or 8 or 14 miles long, you can eat whatever you damn well feel like eating.

Like this bad boy right here.

So Saturday was long run day. I ran 6.2 miles, and Jeff ran 17. Let me say that again: he ran 17 miles.  He ran for two and a half hours. You know, for kicks.  Our luscious reward: the Panzanella we've all been waiting for.  This is peasant food at its simplest: leftover bread, vegetables, oil, and vinegar. Its economy means all you need to do is find some delicious ingredients, and it just about makes itself. This Panzanella takes peasant food and makes it fit for royalty. (Or, you know, stuffing two long-distance runners' bellies while we watch episode after episode of "Monk".)  I made my own bread (more on this in later posts), but you needn't. Just decent quality crusty bread will do, and the finest olive oil you can buy.  This is the thing to do with the end of summer tomatoes sitting on your counter.  Your vegetables will thank you, and so will all the runners you feed.

Really Good Panzanella - Tuscan Bread Salad
(Adapted from Cook's Illustrated.   I promise more diverse recipe sourcing soon, 
but I NEEDED to make this.  You do too.)
  • 6 cups of rustic Italian or French bread, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil, the best you can get your hands on
  • salt & pepper
  • 1.5 pounds of tomatoes, cored and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cucumber peeled, seeded, & sliced thin OR 1 thinly sliced bell pepper
  • 1 shallot, sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup of chopped basil OR 1 cup of chopped arugula

Horse & Buggy Summer's End Tomatoes
1. Heat your oven to 400. Toss bread with 2 tablespoons of oil and a dash of salt. Arrange
the pieces on in a single layer on a baking sheet, and toast until they start to turn light
golden, about 15-20 minutes, stirring halfway. Set aside to cool.

2. Toss tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in large bowl, place in a colander and set over the
bowl to drain for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. The goal here is to let the salt draw the tomato juices out into the bowl so that the bread can soak them up.

3.Whisk 4-6 tablespoons of oil (I used 4 but if I'd run 17 miles I'd have used all 6), vinegar, and pepper to taste in the reserved
tomato juices. Add bread pieces and toss, then let rest for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Add tomatoes, cucumber/red pepper, shallot, and basil/arugula to bowl and toss with
bread. Season with salt & pepper to taste, and enjoy on the back porch wand enjoy on the back porch, watching a mid-September sunset. A glass of prosecco wouldn't hurt, either.


  1. That is a damn good reason to run. :)

  2. Yep. We just had it again this weekend. Jeff ran 18 and I did 7, but it was TOTALLY WORTH IT.