A pan, a zan, an ella

I'm sitting here in my beat-up, blue vinyl lawn chair listening to rain patter on the deck above me. I'm clickity-clacking away as the warm smell of fresh earth wafts toward me. Goddamn.

Goddamn. I often think, and sometimes even say this outloud - mostly when I'm hurtling down a hill on my bike, the Olympic Mountains knife-sharp in the distance, icy and slate-gray, stuck in my throat. I also said it the other day when I made this for breakfast:

That there is a panzanella or bread salad. Panzanella originated in Italy as an ingenious way to use up stale bread. A classic specimen finds juicy ripe tomatoes, fragrant basil, olive oil, vinegar, and sometimes salt and pepper, tossed together with cubes of rustic, country bread. Besides the quintessential summer version I've also mixed up a wintery panzanella with Brussels sprouts and squash and a spring take with asparagus and peas. I am a frugal one and panzanellas gratify my desire to utilize every little scrap of food I've got. (Full disclosure: I eat watermelon rinds).

A couple summers ago I made a strawberry panzanella that found chunks of bread tossed with a sweet, buttery coating before being toasted, dressed with incredibly ripe strawberries, and served with thick Greek yogurt. With some prunes kicking about the cupboard, a loaf of scrumptious, homemade walnut bread stashed in the freezer, a new tub of decadent Liberté prune and walnut yogurt, and memories whirling about my head, I decided to create my own sweet panzanella.

Man, oh, man. The pairing of prunes with walnuts is something I'd heard much about but never tried for myself. There's a reason it's been around. This breakfast panzanella highlights that complex, winey flavour of prunes with a bit of booze, the earthy, contrasting crunch of walnuts and a smooth swipe of rich, tangy-sweet yogurt. Goddamn.

Prune & Walnut Panzanella
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks
If there is no walnut bread to be had (even for ready money) you could choose another fairly hearty, country-style loaf. Likewise, I used Marsala because it was around but a sweet dessert wine, fruity liqueur, or even a light red wine could all work.

Maybe you don't even want to use prunes - switch it up and try a different fresh or dried fruit and nut combination. Consider changing the type of bread, alcohol and/or yogurt you use to complement your new creation.

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp natural cane or brown sugar
pinch of salt
1 pound hearty, day-old walnut bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/3 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups pitted prunes, cut in halves or quarters
1/3 cup Marsala
3/4 cup Liberté prune and walnut yogurt plus more for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Put the butter in a large, heatproof bowl and place in the oven, as it preheats, for a few minutes. Once the butter has melted, stir in 1/4 cup of sugar and a pinch of salt until dissolved. Add the bread cubes and toss for about a minute to coat thoroughly. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the bread is well toasted, tossing every 5 minutes for even coverage.

Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a medium frying pan over medium heat until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Set aside. While the frying pan is still hot, add the prunes and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tbsp of sugar. Quickly stir and, once the sugar begins to melt and caramelize, add the Marsala. Stir, scraping up any gooey bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Simmer gently until the Marsala is reduced to a slightly syrupy consistency.

Once everything is ready, toss the bread cubes, boozy prunes and yogurt together in a large bowl. Serve with more yogurt on the side.

Makes enough for about 6.

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