Summer is Coming: Panzanella Salad

Yesterday felt like summer had arrived. I ran some errands in the morning, and by the time I got home I was clammy and decided it was time to turn on the AC. To be fair, the temperature only got up to about 83°F, but the high humidity made me a little miserable.

What didn’t make me miserable? Figuring out a little-to-no cooking summery meal to make for dinner! As I ran my errands I was struck by an idea: panzanella salad!

Panzanella (1)If you’re unfamiliar with this dish, it’s basically a classic Tuscan salad (served cold or at room temperature) with lots of fresh summery veggies, but the special ingredient is bread. Yes, bread in a salad!

I didn’t follow a recipe so much as simply buy the ingredients and throw them together, but I did consult a couple websites to see what to do with the bread. Panzanella is best with slightly stale bread, because it gets a little crunchy and soaks up all the juices from the dressing and other ingredients. I bought an Italian style baguette, and after looking online, I cut the bread up into cubes, drizzled extra virgin olive oil on them, and toasted them in a 357°F oven for about 12 minutes until they were golden brown.

That was the extent of the cooking for this dish.

Seriously, if you know how to chop ingredients and throw them into a bowl, you’re pretty much set here.

My ingredient list was very simple and cost me $13 at a local grocery store (I already had the last three ingredients at home):

  • One pint of grape tomatoes (you can use any kind of tomato you like)
  • One large cucumber
  • One small red onion
  • One ball of fresh mozzarella
  • One bunch of fresh basil (fresh is KEY here)
  • One baguette or loaf of crusty white bread
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinaigrette
  • Salt + pepper

First I toasted the bread cubes and left them out to cool off. Then I peeled and thinly sliced the red onion, placed the slices in a bowl of cold water, and put it in the fridge. Why did I do this? Onions, especially the red variety, can be super overwhelming…and not in a good way. Soaking them in water can take away some of the bite and stink. When I started feeling a little peckish, I began prepping the rest of the ingredients—of course washing and drying the veggies before going to town on them. I peeled and seeded the cucumber, then sliced it in half lengthwise and chopped it into bite-sized pieces. I sliced each tomato in half. I cut the mozzarella into bite-sized pieces. I chopped a big ol’ bunch of basil. Into a large bowl all these ingredients went, along with some of the red onion slices and toasted bread cubes. I also seasoned the bowl of goodies with salt and pepper.

To make the dressing, I started off by pouring 1/4 cup of olive oil into a jar, followed by a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, along with salt and pepper. I screwed the lid on the jar and shook it, then tasted it. I felt like the dressing needed a little more acid, so I squirted some lemon juice into the jar along with more balsamic. I shook the jar again and tasted again. A little more this, a little more of that, and I was happy with the dressing. This type of vinaigrette is really easy because you can tailor it to your own taste preference.

When the dressing was ready, I poured it over the ingredients in the bowl, tossed it up, and ATE THE SHIT out of it. This panzanella was so, so good! My rendition had a little too much bread for my husband’s taste, but that’s something that I can easily remedy next time by using less bread or more veggies. I know that a lot of people (dudebros, I’m looking at you) think salad isn’t a meal. I’m here to confirm that a well done panzanella salad is plenty filling when you consider that it has bread in it; for all intents and purposes, it’s a deconstructed Caprese sandwich (with cucumber and red onion for kicks). Panzanella salad would be an excellent dish to bring to a potluck or picnic this summer; it travels well and tastes better the longer the flavors have to meld. Even if the bread gets a touch soggy, it still tastes incredible due to all of those juices!

Next time you’re looking for a quick, easy meal, try a panzanella salad. It just might become your new favorite summer dish!

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