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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chasing the Blues Away (Carbohydrates Edition)

As anyone who read my last entry knows, the last few days have been difficult ones.  Fortunately, the "Inspecting Carol" cast seems to have rallied and perhaps even thrived by having some of the (offstage) drama removed from the show.  The rest of the fallout--my friendship with the departing actor, in particular--is going to have to wait.

I don't know about everyone else, but I'm a carbohydrate addict.  When blue, I have two modes with respect to food:  either my appetite disappears altogether, or I want as many starchy, bready things as you can pile on a plate.

Has anyone ever been to the Zuni Cafe in San Francisco?  It's run by Judy Rodgers, who has been there for almost twenty-five years and has turned it into a combination of neighborhood hangout, foodie destination and upscale Parisian bistro.  It features a long zinc bar and is incredibly loud, and according to my friend Stacey, crammed at all hours.

Photo from the Zuni Cafe website,
The Zuni's signature dish is its roast chicken with bread salad and a side of lightly dressed frisée.  The chicken is wonderful--its skin is thoroughly salted and the bird is refrigerated overnight, which leads to perfectly crisp skin--but the real winner is the bread salad. 

If made correctly, it has a combination of crispy and soft pieces, the tang of vinegar tempered by the sweetness of the dried fruit, and is utterly irresistible.  The ideal bread to use is a hearty country white loaf, and you should avoid French and sourdough breads.  French bread doesn't have the right crumb to crust ratio, and the tang of the sourdough will overwhelm the flavor balance of this dish.

When I handed David the grocery list, I obviously failed to mention the "no French bread" aspect (oops), because that's what he brought home.  It wasn't ideal, but this recipe is solid enough to survive it.

It won't chase the blues away, but it might help.  I've adapted it for the season by swapping out the currants for dried cranberries, if you can find unsweetened craisins.  If they aren't available, use the currants.  I've also substituted leeks, which are readily available and look great right now, for the traditional scallions.

You will have leftover vinaigrette, which can be used for a side salad.  The Zuni primarily uses frisée, but the dressing would be delicious on any kind of baby greens.

Zuni Cafe Bread Salad
Adapted from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers

1 lb. chewy bread, preferably a fresh country-style white bread
8 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. Champagne vinegar
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. dried unsweetened cranberries (craisins)
2 tbsp. warm water
4 tbsp. pine nuts, toasted
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 cup leeks, green and pale white portions, thinly sliced
4 tbsp. low-sodium chicken stock
Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste

Slice the majority of the crust off the bread, being careful to leave as much of the loaf intact as possible.  (If you feel like it, eat some of the crusts.  I know I did.)

Preheat the broiler.  While it is heating, cut the bread into about four chunks, and rub them all over with two tablespoons of the olive oil.  Place them on a cookie sheet and broil them until lightly brown all over, turning as necessary.

Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool briefly.  Then tear the bread into irregularly sized chunks.  Don't make the chunks uniform, because the texture of the salad depends on some pieces getting really crisp while others remain soft.  Place the bread chunks in a large bowl.

This is how the crumbs should look, although use a larger bowl, because you'll need the space to toss the bread with the other ingredients.

In a small bowl, combine four tablespoons of olive oil with the Champagne vinegar and whisk together.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.  If the mixture is too oily, add a bit more vinegar.

Drizzle half of the vinaigrette on the bread chunks and toss to coat well.  Taste a chunk of the bread and adjust the seasoning again as necessary.  Add additional vinaigrette if needed.

In a ramekin, combine the craisins, red wine vinegar and warm water.  Leave to soak.

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.  While it is heating, warm two tablespoons of olive oil in a small skillet and add the leeks and garlic over low heat, stirring until they are softened and slightly golden.  This will go fast--don't let the garlic burn.

I had green onions in the house, so used them for the photos. 
The next batch I make will have the leeks.

Add the leek-garlic combination to the bread salad.  Drain the craisins and add those as well, folding these items into the bread.

Drizzle the chicken stock over the bread and fold again.  If the mixture is dry, add a little more vinaigrette. 

Pour the bread into a large round baking dish, ensuring that it is not spread shallowly.  The magic of the salad is that some portions remain soft, while others get crispy.

Place the salad in the oven and bake for approximately 30 minutes, until the salad is lightly golden and thoroughly warmed. 

Serves four to six as a side dish.

And a P.S.--thanks to those both in Anchorage and here in cyberspace for the good thoughts and sympathy over the last couple of days.


  1. No bread goes to waste in my house. It usually ends up as breadcrumbs or in pudding. Delighted to get another recipe - this sounds really gorgeous and tangy.

  2. I am sold! Sounds delightful, looks great. Can't beat that. (You're not alone in your carb addiction; you've got one hearty compadre right here!) Hope the remainder of rehearsal goes without incident!

  3. WHat an interesting way to use up bread! I too usually rescue things via French toast or bread pudding :)

  4. I'm in, too! I'd love a big bowl of this carb loaded wonder! It sounds delish!

  5. It sound delicious. Being gluten free I always try new things to dress up my bread.

  6. Oh yes, I love carbs. Especially bread!! This looks so yummy!!

  7. I just recently was turned on to bread salad and I really enjoyed it. Your recipe does have some goodies that my salad did not have, so I will need to try your version. Looks delicious.

  8. How can you feel guilty about eating bread when it is in a salad?! I love panzanellas but I love that some of this bread is soft and some crunchy! And the sweet and tangy cranberries do make this perfect for fall! I hope better days are ahead for you!

  9. Very nice and beautifully paired, I simply adore the whole set and how you have prepared it.

  10. This looks so wonderful. I love bread salads. It's the perfect way to use up bread.

  11. Oh yes - what is there about carbs? I have no blues to chase away (but I'm in theatre - they'll return) but this just drew me in and had me nodding "yes, I need to make this."

  12. This sounds fantastic! I've heard only wonderful things about Zuni cafe. Hope it took the edge of your blues...

  13. My husband was there a few weeks ago for friend's birthday party. I wish I could try this restaurant. The bread salad looks very comforting! I love french bread...must be good!

  14. This is a lovely post. I enjoyed your candor and suggestions regarding the recipe and alternate choices. Next time I'm in the city by the bay, I'll look up the cafe. In the interim, don't let your castmates get to you.

  15. Woohoo! I love bread salad! I'm not a huge carb addict, which is odd since I bake so much bread. I hope the next half of your week goes well, I really do!

  16. If you need to chase away the blues, that bread salad is the way to go. Soft and crunchy comfort in a bowl.

  17. This looks delicious! What a great meal...and I LOVE bread salads! I'm glad things are looking up regarding the play! I apologize I'm so late in doing this, but I'm now following you on Google Follower!