You know something must be be really good when you drive up to a tiny little building in the middle of an urban neighborhood in Richmond and there are two women standing next to their bikes taking whiffs of the air surrounding the building.
The smell of freshly baked bread filled the city block. Could it be that THE Billy Bread is baking in that little green building???
Executive Chef Walter Bundy, of Lemaire at The Jefferson Hotel, told me that Billy Bread was a must have while in Richmond, so we decided to stop by on our way out of town as we were heading to Pennsylvania to see what all the fuss was about! If this chef says it’s good, then it must be good!
Unfortunately, we did not have time to meet with the master himself, Billy Fallen, the creator of Billy Bread. We are not sure if he is the urban legend or if it’s his bread, but Billy Bread has been part of the Richmond food scene since 1999. The bread has been baked in several locations in Richmond over the years, but we visited the South Allen Street location where he bakes the famous bread today.
This beautiful, hearty bread is a naturally leavened bread that is made with hand ground grains that include spelt, rye, hard red winter wheat and wheat flour. The crust is crunchy and oh, so good when hot out of the oven!
Billy sold the business six years ago to an investor that had grand plans for the bread. Those plans didn’t seem to work, so Billy had the opportunity to buy back his business.
Billy Bread can be found in the bread baskets of Lemaire and other restaurants in the city of Richmond. He is also working on some larger distribution plans. He makes just this one bread, except he will bake Foccacia, which is a special request of Chef Bundy.
The delightful hot loaf of Billy Bread that we enjoyed On the Road to Pennsylvania would have made a great Panzenella. However, there were no leftovers and I wasn’t cooking on that trip!
If you find yourself in Richmond, be sure to track down a loaf or two of Billy Bread. You will be glad you did.
If you are lucky enough to snag a loaf of Billy Bread or other great Artisinal bread, Panzenella is the perfect salad to make with that bread, especially since tomatoes are at their best right now.
I did purchase an organic loaf of Paesano Hearth Bread to make my salad. It was good, but not as tasty as Billy Bread. However, it was a good substitute for this salad. Panzenella is best when made with the summer’s ripest Heirloom tomatoes. I chose some smaller Heirloom Red Zebras (because they looked the best) and a local cucumber for my salad. I would suggest that you use large Heirloom tomatoes that are juicy. The Red Zebras were almost too small and meaty. Be sure to use a fragrant and fruity olive oil.
The flavors of this salad are delightful together. The bread is perfectly dressed and still a bit firm. Be sure to add additional cucumber and basil to your personal taste.
This is the perfect summertime salad!
Panzenella (Bread Salad)
Yield: Serves 4
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
The success of this recipe depends on ripe, in-season tomatoes and a fruity, high-quality olive oil.
6 cups rustic Italian or French bread , cut or torn into 1-inch pieces (1/2 to 1 pound)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (Use a really nice fruity olive oil)
Kosher salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, cored, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces (Use Heirloom, if possible)
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and sliced thin (Or more, to taste)
1 shallot, sliced thin
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (Or more, to taste)
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss bread pieces with 2 tablespoons oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt; arrange bread in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Toast bread pieces until just starting to turn light golden, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
Gently toss tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Transfer to colander and set over bowl; set aside to drain for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally.
Whisk remaining 6 tablespoons oil, vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper into reserved tomato juices. Add bread pieces, toss to coat, and let stand for 10 minutes, tossing occasionally.
Add tomatoes, cucumber, shallot, and basil to bowl with bread pieces and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.
Recipe courtesy of Cooks Illustrated