Now that September is here, and this year’s gardens are still producing due to the late spring plantings and warm weather, it’s time to explore heartier dishes that incorporate those fresh vegetables.
Panzanella (pahn-zah-NEHL-lah) is a bread salad that always includes bread and tomatoes. Other fresh vegetables like cucumbers and peppers can also be added.
The farmers of the Tuscan countryside created this humble dish that was served at the tables of hard-working folks who lived off the land. It was the custom of country folk to soak their stale bread in water before mixing it with vegetables from their gardens. It is believed that the word panzanella comes from the fusion of the words “pane” (bread) and “zuppetta” (soup).
The basic recipe for panzanella is simple and doesn’t take much time at all to assemble.
2-3 large garden tomatoes, cut into small pieces
2 teaspoons of kosher salt
4 slices of sourdough bread, cut into cubes
10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small shallot, minced
1 medium clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons balsamic, red or white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon of sugar
White pepper (or freshly ground black pepper)
½ cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and adjust the oven rack to the center position. In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Transfer the cubes to a baking sheet and place into preheated oven. Bake until crisp and firm but not browned. Remove from the oven and let the cubes cool.
Place the tomatoes in a colander set over a bowl and toss them with the kosher salt. Drain at room temperature, tossing occasionally. Drain for a minimum of 15 minutes. Remove the colander from the bowl with the tomato juice. Add to the juice in the bowl the shallot, garlic, vinegar and sugar. Whisking constantly, drizzle in the remaining olive oil. Season the dressing to taste with salt and pepper.
Combine the bread cubes, tomatoes and dressing in a large bowl then toss with basil leaves. Let rest for 30 minutes before serving, tossing occasionally until the dressing is completely absorbed into the bread.
Additional variations on panzanella are endless. Here are a few ideas, but use your imagination and incorporate your own favorite ingredients:
- Get creative with the bread! Try naan, marbled rye or multi-grain bread. Cornbread is an option too, and makes the panzanella suitable for adding interesting non-traditional ingredients like black beans and roasted corn.
- For added protein, try tossing in grilled steak, chicken or salmon. Pancetta is another great option. Not a meat eater? Try adding your favorite bean(s).
- Cheese adds another dimension to panzanella. Experiment with fresh mozzarella, feta or burrata cheese.
- Add your favorite fresh garden vegetables like cucumbers, peppers, green beans and radishes. Spring mix, radicchio, shaved fennel, kale, or arugula will add texture and another level of flavor. Try adding roasted vegetables like brussels sprouts, zucchini, butternut squash or eggplant.
- Round out the dish with capers, kalamata olives, sundried tomatoes or anchovies.
Have fun in the kitchen!