Panzanella Salad

Pananella Salad | The View from Great Island

It was my birthday last week and my husband and I planned to have diner at an Italian restaurant in our neighborhood.  At the last minute, we decided to switch it out for several nights of taken-in instead.   More food: same amount of money.  We felt pretty clever.

Heirloom tomatoes

The first night was Chinese.  The second was Middle Eastern, and the third night we got appetizers from the same Italian restaurant we were going to eat at in the first place.

heriloom tomatoes

One of the things we ordered was panzanella.  I’ve always avoided it because the thought of bread in a salad just didn’t click with me.  But, like so many other things in life, all it took was giving it a try to prove me wrong.

Heirloom Tomato Pananella Salad

It’s a much more exciting salad than I expected, but very simple at the same time.  There are the colors of the juicy chunks of tomato, crusty cubes of bread, half moons of crunchy cucumber, and slivers of sharp red onion.  No greens except the roughly torn basil leaves which contribute a strong licorice taste.  Add the fruitiness of the olive oil, the tang of the vinegar, and the hot bite of coarse black pepper and you wind up with a wonderful thing. But at its core, the real thing about this salad is the mixing of the tomato juices and olive oil with the bread.  Both the flavor and the texture are memorable.

Heirloom Tomato Panzanella Salad

 Panzanella Salad

serves two for lunch
oven to 325
4 slices very crusty Italian or artisan bread, cut into bite sized cubes
1 clove of garlic, peeled and halved
3 cups diced tomatoes (about 5 or 6 small heirloom tomatoes)
1/2 medium English (seedless) cucumber, halved lengthwise and sliced
1/2 small red onion, cut in fine wedges
1 bunch basil leaves, roughly torn
about 4 Tbsp good fruity olive oil
about 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
salt and fresh cracked black pepper

  • Put the bread on an ungreased baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 5 to 7 minutes.
  • Rub the inside of your serving bowl with the cut sides of the garlic. Discard the garlic.  Put the tomatoes, cucumber, onions and basil leaves in the bowl.  Add the cubes of bread.
  • Mix a simple vinaigrette with the oil and vinegar.  Taste it and adjust it to suit you.  Stir vigorously with a spoon, and then drizzle over the salad   Toss well.
  • Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
  • Let the salad sit for about 15-30 minutes and then serve it up!

I know this kind of salad is the ultimate late summer experience, but actually there are some pretty good tomatoes available year round these days, and the bread gives it a heartier feel that seems appropriate for cooler weather.  There are a few keys to it, as far as I can tell.  First, obviously, get good tomatoes.  And the crustier the bread, the better.  When it soaks in the dressing, the soft part of the bread will become almost custard like, but the crust will retain its firmness.  Then, get a really fruity green olive oil.  Something that tastes amazing all by itself.  I’ve been making a point to pick up a different brand every time I replenish my supply.  I’m finding that the local California oils are my favorite, they have the freshest, fruitiest flavor

Heirloom Tomato Panzanella Salad 2

 

9 Comments

  • Reply
    SavoringTime in the Kitchen
    January 28, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    This is a salad I have yet to try. I hope I have another banner year for tomatoes because this would be perfect with fresh off the vine tomatoes!

  • Reply
    Tricia @ Saving room for dessert
    January 28, 2013 at 1:58 am

    There you got with those gorgeous tomatoes again! This is such a refreshing looking meal. I love the idea of a panzanella and bet it is super tasty!

  • Reply
    Michela
    January 27, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    very colorful recipe! it looks scrumptious!

    I’m a new follower, I just discovered your blog and read some of your latest recipes, they’re all yummy!

    Michela @ http://www.cook-alaska.blogspot.it/

  • Reply
    Eleanor
    January 27, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    Happy Belated Birthday!
    Panzanella is my FAVORITE summer salad. There is nothing I love more than this salad and a glass of Chardonnay on a summer’s night.
    I actually made a version of this last night, but with bacon so it would be a little more hearty.

  • Reply
    Eileen
    January 27, 2013 at 4:15 am

    Happy birthday! Several days of take-out sounds like a great low-key celebration to me. :) This salad looks so good–and I’m super jealous of those beautiful tomatoes!

  • Reply
    Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen
    January 27, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Happy birthday.

    I love panzanella salad and (ssh,) sometimes I eat all of the bread first :) Such pretty tomatoes you found in winter. I think I might be jealous.
    Sam

  • Reply
    gigiofca
    January 27, 2013 at 5:13 am

    Happy birthday!

  • Reply
    Nantucket Daffodil
    January 26, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    Oh Sue, a belated Happy Birthday! I love panzanella! I made it last summer
    http://nantucketdaffodil.blogspot.com/2012/08/a-great-summer-lunch-from-garden.html

    I was also afraid of the bread aspect….kept thinking it would get soggy….but it was perfect!

    Thanks for inspiring me to make this even in winter!

  • Reply
    Ocean Breezes and Country Sneezes
    January 26, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    Happy Birthday! It sounds like you had some mini feasts for yourself!

    This is one of my favorite summer salads. I love all the heirloom tomatoes you’ve added.

    My good friend Susan at From Beyond My Kitchen Window makes a delicious one! When she brought it to my cottage it also had grilled shrimp – yum!

    Have a nice weekend!

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