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Something Different
Week of: February 25, 2013
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Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

Dressing and a Tomato Secret
Give This Winter Salad Zest

By Dana Jacobi
for the American Institute for Cancer Research

Ever since the baby greens (also called mesclun) and so-called vine tomatoes became the generic base for green side salads, I find that most of them have little taste. What appeal there is comes from add-ins and the dressing.

In summer, locally grown lettuces and truly vine-ripened tomatoes rescue us from these cardboard salads, but come winter, produce trucked in from California and Florida sends me searching for ways to assemble more flavorful results.

Based on what is available at the supermarket, this wintery version of panzanella, the Tuscan salad that includes generous chunks of bread and a pungent dressing, makes the delicious best of familiar ingredients.

In summer, juicy, meltingly ripe tomatoes make any salad mouth-watering. Now, the secret to good tomato flavor year-round is patience. Buy meaty plum tomatoes and leave them on the counter – out of the sun – until they turn intensely red and yield with gentle squeezing. This technique works even when plum tomatoes, or romas, start out pale and rock hard. It can take up to 10 days, so be patient.

All the other vegetables in this salad are year-round reliable, including the romaine lettuce. Do buy a full head, not a bag of hearts, because the dark outer leaves have more taste, along with more nutrients. Cut them into strips to enjoy their flavor even if they are a bit leathery.

Panzanella’s dressing is sharp with vinegar and, with plenty of dressing the bread can soak it up. My tweak for winter is adding oregano. This gives the entire salad a flavor kick reminiscent of Greek salad and makes a wonderful marriage with crusty whole-wheat Italian bread.

Winter Bread Salad

Winter Bread Salad

  • 3 cups whole-wheat Italian bread (4 oz.), in 1-inch cubes
  • 1 garlic clove, halved lengthwise
  • 3 very ripe plum tomatoes
  • 1 celery rib, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup diced sweet onion
  • 3 cups romaine lettuce, cut crosswise into 3/4-inch strips
  • 3 Tbsp. chopped flat leaf parsley, optional


  • 3 Tbsp. white or red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. natural cane sugar
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Spread cubed bread in single layer on baking sheet and let sit until surface feels dry on most sides, or cubes are firm but not stale-hard, 2 to 6 hours.

Rub salad bowl, preferably wood or bamboo, liberally with cut side of half a garlic clove. Reserve the other garlic half for another use. Cut tomatoes lengthwise into quarter-wedges, then cut crosswise into chunky pieces. Place tomatoes and any juice in prepared bowl.

Add celery, onion and bread cubes. Arrange lettuce over chopped vegetables. Sprinkle on parsley, if using.

For dressing, whisk vinegar, salt and sugar in small bowl until salt and sugar dissolve. Add oregano and 3-4 grinds pepper. Whisk in oil.

At table, pour dressing over salad and toss until it well-coated and any extra dressing pools in bottom of bowl. Divide salad among 4 wide, shallow bowls, including liquid from bottom of salad bowl.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 158 calories, 8 g total fat (1 g saturated fat), 20 g carbohydrate,
4 g protein, 4 g dietary fiber, 281 mg sodium.

Something Different is written by Dana Jacobi, author of 12 Best Foods Cookbook and contributor to AICR’s New American Plate Cookbook: Recipes for a Healthy Weight and a Healthy Life.


The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $100 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.

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