Panzanella Salad with Sweet Summer Tomatoes

Panzanella Salad

Panzanella Salad

Yes, SUMMER is officially here! Tomatoes are coming into season, and as the summer heats up, you’ll want some simple, healthy recipes to help you cool down.  This beautiful panzanella salad will definitely do the trick.  It’s deliciously refreshing, quick to prepare and a perfect light side dish to all your summertime grilling. Or you can simply eat it on its own as a fabulous revitalizing salad.  Either way, this classic Tuscan-style tomato and bread salad is one great way to enjoy all those luscious summertime tomatoes and make good use of your day-old bread.

I used to make this recipe during the summer in Little Italy, NYC. I served it with grilled sardines, but you could also order it without them.  When I first put it on the menu, I wasn’t sure how the guests would receive it.  Surprisingly, it caught on! People loved the salad so much that many asked for it as a side dish to their main courses.

Once you make this seasonal salad, you’ll find many ways to adapt it to your own tastes. So, head to the market to buy the most delicious, ripe and fragrant tomatoes that you can find along with a baguette. Then, start enjoying a cool and refreshing panzanella salad today.

Panzanella Salad

Ingredients:

  • 2 -3 pounds fresh ripe tomatoes (I used a mix of cherry and grape tomatoes)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 7-8 cups of bread- ciabatta, rustic sourdough or a baguette, cut into medium-size cubes
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons, divided, extra-virgin olive oil (Plus more to drizzle onto the finished salad)
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 1-2 small garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup packed basil leaves, cut into a fine chiffonade
  • 3 tablespoons fresh oregano, roughly chopped

Procedure:  Tomatoes

Sweet cherry and grape tomatoes.

Sweet cherry and grape tomatoes.

  • Rinse off all the tomatoes and pat dry.
  • Cut all the tomatoes in half.  You might want to cut some of the bigger ones in half again.

Tip: Make sure to cut ALL the tomatoes even the very small ones. Cutting the tomatoes is what releases their juices and makes for a deliciously flavorful panzanella salad.

Slice all the tomatoes in half.

Slice all the tomatoes in half.

  • Now place the tomatoes in a bowl and season with 2 teaspoons kosher salt. Toss to coat well. Set aside at room temperature to draw out the juices.
After salting the cut tomatoes leave them out at room temperature.

After salting the cut tomatoes, leave them out at room temperature.

  • This should take 15-20 minutes.

Procedure: Bread

Cubed bread for your panzanella salad

Cubed bread for your panzanella salad

  • While you wait for the tomatoes, work on the bread.
  • Cut uniform cubes (crouton shapes) leaving the crust on.
Do not over crowd the pan. You'll need room to move and turn the bread cubes as they cook.

Do not overcrowd the pan. You’ll need room to move and turn the bread cubes as they cook.

  • Heat a saute pan or cast iron skillet. Add two tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the cubed bread, in a single layer, to the pan. Cook until golden brown, then turn so all sides are crispy, adding additional oil if necessary.
  • Once all the bread is cooked, toss them (while still warm) with 1-2 teaspoons of salt, to taste, and the chopped oregano. Let cool.

Tip: I like to crisp up the bread in a cast iron skillet on my stove.  Essentially you are quickly shallow frying the bread cubes. This method will crisp them nicely on the outside and still chewy inside. As you see them get crispy, remove them to a bowl. Some will cook quicker than others, so be patient. This is the most important step in the recipe.

As the bread crisps up remove them from the pan.

As the bread crisps, remove them from the pan.

Tip: You can cook the croutons in the oven, but you will not have as much control over them. It’s not as easy to pick out the croutons as they are ready. Also, you risk ending up with a drier crouton that may be crumbly rather than chewy.

To make the dish:

  • Add the garlic, shallot, 1/2 cup of olive oil and red wine vinegar to the tomatoes and their collected juices.
  • Add the salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
  • Carefully mix all together and taste it. Adjust the seasoning, if necessary.

Tip: At this stage, you can wrap and refrigerate the tomatoes for a few hours, if not using immediately. Personally, I like this salad slightly chilled. It adds a nice cool and refreshing feeling when eaten on a hot summer day.

  • When ready to serve, add the bread to the bowl of tomatoes. Carefully toss all together making sure all the croutons are covered with liquid.
Combine tomatoes and bread.

Combine tomatoes and bread.

  • Let the panzanella salad sit for 10-15 minutes to allow the bread to soak up all the fabulous flavors and soften a little.
  • Add the basil just before you’re ready to serve and toss.

 

Add basil and toss.

Add basil and toss.

  • Then drizzle a little more olive oil over the top and serve.
Panzanella Salad

Panzanella Salad

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