I don’t know how I lived my entire life without eating a panzanella – a Tuscan salad that features day-old bread tossed with tomatoes, onions and cucumbers. But I made one recently, and heard angels sing.
Panzanella is a great way to use bread that’s just past fresh, but not ready to be tossed. At first, the bread’s role is to give the salad a little salty crunch. But then, as the panzanella sits, the bread soaks up the vinaigrette and becomes a delectable bite of olive oil, vinegar and spices.
Of course, panzanella is another wonderful way to use your garden-fresh tomatoes and cucumbers.
I like my panzanella dressed with a traditional French vinaigrette. But, when I’m short of time, I’ll use my favorite bottled, olive-oil based dressing, and I’m sure it will taste lovely. And if I throw in some feta, giving it a Greek flair, I’m sure nobody will arrest me.
Here’s how to make a panzanella.
Hard bread – French, Italian, artisan – cut into 1-inch cubes. You’ll need about 6 cups, but you can use more or less.
3 tablespoons olive oil for browning the bread
½ teaspoon of kosher salt
Ripe tomatoes – at least 2 large cut into chunks, or two cups of cherry tomatoes halved
½ red onion chopped
1 large cucumber peeled, halved, seeded and sliced ½-1 inch thick
1 green, red, or yellow bell pepper seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
15 large basil leaves slivered with a sharp knife
¼ cup capers
1. Heat the olive oil until it shimmers, then toss in the bread cubes and salt. Stir or toss frequently until the bread is toasted brown.
2. In your favorite salad bowl, toss together the tomatoes, onion, cucumber, pepper, capers and basil leaves.
3. Add the bread.
4. Toss with a vinaigrette.
5. Serve as a side salad or main course.