Making, or should I say, eating, panzanella is one of my favorite things about summer. It just won’t do to make it any other time of the year. You need garden fresh tomatoes and basil to make this bread salad come into its own. Anything else would be a disappointment.
Speaking of disappointments, you do have to turn on your oven a bit to make this salad, which might be a turn-off. But the oven remains at a slow, low temperature and you only need it for about ten or fifteen minutes or so to toast the bread. It can also be pan-toasted in the skillet, but I feel like the oven does a much better job and uses much less oil. Traditionally I think panzanella is made with stale, day-old bread so I don’t think Italians even toast it. But since bread like this never lasts long enough in our household to make it to stale, we toast it, and I think the bread tastes all the better for it, too.
You’ll find lots of different versions of panzanella around the web, and I’m sure plenty of them are delicious. This is just my favorite -and also, one of the cheapest and easiest. It helps if you happen to have fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic and onion growing in your garden like I do, but even if you go to a farmer’s market this version skips out on additions like capers, mozzarella, and champagne vinegar (!!) like I’ve seen in some. I’d say the only extra things you might want to add to this would be some mild beans, like cranberry or canellini, a mild cheese, or cucumber. Add them at the end while you are assembling your salad, but if you want to include cucumber you should add it to your salad bowl by bowl as it’s eaten. Cucumber shortens the shelf life of this salad from a few days to a few hours before becoming a viscous soggy mess.
This recipe is light on work but there are some steps that take a bit of non-labor-intensive time, so keep that in mind if you need this salad ready by a deadline. The vegetables and dressing are left to sit and marinate a bit and of course you not only have to toast the bread but you need to wait for it to cool down enough to assemble the salad. Overall you are doing some chopping, mixing and toasting and that’s all. Not too much to ask in the summer.
- 3 cups crusty French or Italian country-style bread
- 1 lb fresh tomatoes
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup red wine or balsamic vinegar
- 1 whole small or one half red or sweet yellow onion
- 1 medium clove garlic
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn or sliced into ribbons
- salt & pepper
– Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Slice bread into approximately 1-inch chunks. You want the bread to be small enough to easily fit on a fork with a bit of chopped tomato. Drizzle the sliced bread with a bit of olive oil and mix thoroughly to coat. Place on a tray lined with foil and pop into the oven. Bake until bread should is golden and just beginning to color, usually 10-15 minutes, depending on your oven.
– While the bread is cooking and cooling mince your garlic and slice your onion in to thin ribbons or dice.
– In a nonreactive bowl mix the olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic and onion.
– Chop your tomatoes into 1-inch chunks so they are roughly the same size as the bread. Add the tomatoes to the dressing mixture and let sit for an hour so the flavors can mingle.
– After the dressing has marinated and the bread has cooled mix them all together in a big bowl so that the toasted bread becomes permeated with marinating liquid and tossed with the vegetables. Add generous amounts of chopped fresh basil and eat all afternoon.