Panzanella feels like an ode to summer.
The classic Tuscan salad was originally created to use up stale bread, because why would you want to throw away leftover bread when you can make something delicious? It includes some sort of vinaigrette, which soaks into the stale bread (or in this recipe, baked croutons), as well as tomatoes, which lend their juices to the mix, and often onions, cucumbers and basil.
I use cherry tomatoes here, and halve them, but if you have big ripe tomatoes to cube up, definitely do that instead. Mixing different colored tomatoes makes this dish even more visually arresting.
If you have garlic oil on hand, use that, or plain olive oil works just fine.
And if you're making croutons instead of using stale bread, you can use any kind of bread for them. Classic panzanella features some sort of firm white bread, anything from Italian bread to ciabatta to a Pullman loaf. However, there are no rules: If you want, you can use sourdough, pumpernickel, whole grain, etc.
Keep in mind that the bread will continue to firm up as it cools, so bake the croutons until they are browned a bit but still have some tenderness in the center.
You can leave the crusts on the bread or remove them. I happen to love the crust, and the difference in texture between the softer inside of the bread and the crunchier outside. Besides, the whole point of panzanella originally was to use up stale bread, so it seems a shame to throw away any part of the loaf.
Panzanella is best the day it’s made, but after it sits for at least 20 minutes.
1 (1-pound) loaf of ciabatta or country or other rustic white bread
1/3 cup olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
¼ cup minced shallots
1/2 teaspoon finely minced garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup halved and very thinly sliced red onion
3 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
5 baby or Persian cucumbers, halved and sliced 1/2-inch thick
¼ cup chopped or thinly sliced fresh basil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Tear the ciabatta into big, rough chunks, about 1 1/2-inches large. Place them on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with the 1/3 cup olive oil. Toss them to combine, then spread them out on the baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 10 minutes, until the bread starts to brown at the edges, but the croutons are still tender inside. Remove the bread from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet.
Make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl or container combine the 1/2 cup olive oil, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, shallots, garlic, and salt and pepper.
Place the red onion, tomatoes, cucumbers and basil in a bowl. Shake or stir the vinaigrette to re-combine, then pour it over the salad and toss gently. Add the croutons and toss again until everything is well combined. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes to allow the croutons to soak up the dressing a bit and soften, then serve.
Some dishes that go well with Tomato Panzanella include Grilled Prosciutto Wrapped Pork Chops, Barbecued Chicken, Grilled Chicken Breasts with Lime, Roasted Garlic and Fresh Herb Marinade and Grilled Marinated NY Strip Steak.
Katie Workman writes regularly about food for The Associated Press. She has written two cookbooks focused on family-friendly cooking, “Dinner Solved!” and “The Mom 100 Cookbook.” She blogs at https://themom100.com/. She can be reached at Katie@themom100.com.
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Katie Workman, The Associated Press