It’s taken me three tries to get this Panzanella Salad just the way I like it. The first time I tried making a Panzanella Salad I was out in Scottsdale visiting my parents a few weeks ago. I had never made it before, let alone even eaten it before, but it was always something that sounded intriguing and I wanted to try. And what better time to try something new than having two eager adults (my parents) ready and willing to eat whatever I made them.
Panzanella salad is a Tuscan bread salad and it’s really quite simple to make. The classic version is simply a combination of cut up tomatoes (sometimes onion) and bread tossed in a vinaigrette dressing. More modern versions include cucumbers, bell peppers, capers or really, just about any veggie you like. Now you might think bread in salad sounds, well, a bit mushy and not so appetizing. I know I did at first. So instead of just adding chunks of crusty bread, I made croutons with the bread first. My first attempt, while delicious, wasn’t perfect. I made the chunks of the bread and veggies too big which I didn’t like. I felt like all I could get in my mouth was a big chunk of bread or tomato, not a flavorful combination of everything in each bite. Another thing that bothered me a little was the raw onion (not a big fan of raw red onion) and the big crunchy chunks of red and yellow bell peppers. We all still devoured the salad, but I kept thinking about how I could make it better.
On my second attempt I cut up the veggies and bread smaller which was much better. But this time I thought I’d try a greek panzanella salad so I added kalamata olives and feta cheese. Again, it was good, but not quite right. I think I added too many olives and feta and it was just a little to “tangy” for what I wanted. The feta and kalamata olives overpowered the other ingredients.
Then, quite by accident, I was flipping through the TV channels the other day and caught the last part of Ina’s show where she was making a grilled panzanella salad. WOW, why didn’t I think of that?! I guess that’s why she gets the big bucks and I’m just a little ol’ food blogger.
So back to the kitchen I went to give this salad another go. I made some modifications, including grilling the peppers and red onion, and I think I’ve now come up with a much better Panzanella Salad that’s not quite traditional but I really enjoyed. In this go around I made the bread pieces smaller. I used grape tomatoes and cut them in half. Cut the cucumbers a bit smaller and grilled the peppers and red onion. I also grilled some sliced fennel (LOVE that stuff!). I even added olives since I liked that in my second round but this time I added plain black olives.
Panzanella Salad is perfect for lunch or serve it up with your grilled meat this summer. That’s what I would do if I had a BBQ available!
- 4 C. crusty bread, cubed*
- 1 Tbls. butter
- 2-3 Tbls. olive oil
- 1 whole clove garlic, peeled
- 1 pint, grape tomatoes, cut in halves
- ½ English cucumber, quartered and sliced
- 3 slices of red onion, ¼" thick slices (grilled and cut in chunks)
- ½ each orange, red, yellow bell pepper (grilled and cut in chunks)
- ¼ c. capers, drained
- 20 black olives, sliced in half (use as many as you like)
- 20 small mozzarella balls, cut in half (I used the marinated mozzarella balls in a big tub from Costco)
- handful of torn basil leaves
- 6 Tbls. olive oil
- 2 Tbls. white wine vinegar
- Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tsp. dijon mustard
- ½ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. pepper
- (or use your favorite bottled vinaigrette)
- Prepare vinaigrette:
- In small bowl combine vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, dijon, salt & pepper. Slowly whisk in olive oil until the mixture is emsulfied. Set aside in refrigerator until ready to use.
- Make croutons:
- In large skillet, melt butter in olive oil. Add garlic clove (I like to hit it with the back of my knife to mash it a bit) and sauté a minute or so to flavor the oil. Remove garlic clove. Add bread cubes and toss to coat well. Continue to toss to toast the bread. Once bread is toasted, remove from pan and set aside.
- Make salad:
- Heat grill pan (or BBQ) and grill onion slices, fennel slices and bell peppers. Set aside to cool, then cut into chunks and add to large bowl.
- Add cucumbers, tomatoes, capers, olives, mozzarella cheese, basil, bread (croutons), vinaigrette and toss well to combine.
*Try a ciabatta (my favorite) or other crusty, country style bread. Instead of making croutons in a pan on the stove you could toss the bread cubes in olive oil, lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast the bread in the oven at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes (remember to toss them halfway to toast both sides). I prefer the flavor of the garlic, olive oil, butter combination I get when making them in the pan on the stove.