It’s been a few years since I was first introduced to this delicious, colorful, and healthy salad. I was invited to an outdoor play a little north of Berkeley, California (CalShakes, for you locals!), and they allow you to bring your own picnic dinner. My friend’s contribution was a panzanella salad and it was so good (Thanks E!)!
Flash forward a few years and here I am sitting in a phase of my life where I am pretty obsessed with tomatoes (all kinds: heirloom, cherry, beefsteak, early girl, etc.). And then I ended up with half a baguette of a few-days-old bread and didn’t know what to do with it. That was when my love for this salad was truly reborn.
The acidity of the balsamic, against the buttery quality of the olive oil, paired with the freshness of the tomatoes and basil, with a soft earthiness of the red onion, finished off with the crunch of the roasted bread can best be described in one word: heavenly. 🙂
To be honest, I never asked my friend for her recipe and don’t know if my recipe is truly ‘authentic’ the ways Italians do in Italy. But my goodness, is this EASY and SCRUMPTIOUS! I made this two times already in the past one week (once for a family style dinner and once for a July 4th potluck) and it has always proven to be a beautiful vegetarian dish that is easy on the eyes and the stomach. So here we go, ladies and gentlemen – and I don’t doubt you will be surprised just HOW easy this recipe is. 😉
Sometimes the best things are life are the simplest ones.
For you foodies who are history buffs too, here’s a bit on the history of panzanella – who know that it started out as an ONION recipe?!? 🙂
A note on this recipe: try to use high-quality extra virgin olive oil & balsamic vinegar – it really makes a huge difference since olive oil can have odd bitter after tastes and balsamics can have a strong acidity that can overpower this entire dish!
Yields: 6 generous servings, family style
For the ‘bread’ part of the recipe
4 cups of cubed baguette bread (can be sourdough, batard, anything you enjoy eating really!) – best when it is 2-3 days old
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
For the ‘dressing’
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup good quality balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
To finish off the recipe
4 cups of ripe tomato wedges (cut each tomato into 4 pieces)
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
1/2 red onion, finely diced
2 cups cubed mozzarella cheese (Optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large mixing bowl, add the cubed bread, olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. Using your hands, mix the ingredients well so that the bread is well-coated evenly. Pour bread cubes onto a parchment paper or aluminum foil-lined baking sheet and bake on the center rack of the oven for approximately 15 minutes (or until cubes are browned). Take the sheet out halfway during this period, and using tongs, carefully toss the bread cubes once for even roasting. Once roasting is complete, cool the bread cubes.
[Note: you can grill the baguette on a hot grill or indoor grill pan and cube it after if you wish to bypass the oven step!]
Meanwhile, on a separate bowl, whisk the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to your taste. (Remember to always taste test your marinade before adding to the serving bowl with bread!). This step can be made ahead and be stored at room temperature for 2 days.
In the bowl you will serve this dish in, add the cooled bread cubes, quartered tomatoes, cubed mozzarella, red onion, and basil. Add the marinade 20 minutes before you want to serve it, and toss to combine.
Serve immediately and Enjoy! (Although, I have enjoyed this recipe 24 hours after making it, and thoroughly enjoyed the juicy bread cubes that had soaked up all the wonderful flavors overnight!). So don’t throw away your leftovers thinking they will be awful and soggy! 🙂