As someone who typically posts about brownies and ice cream, you might be surprised that I would now write about bread salad. I would not replace my brownies with this, but having panzanella can certainly reduce those latent feelings of sugar guilt.

In fact, I love this salad with its richness of flavors. I usually don’t care for subtle dishes or beverages. I want my mouth to be overwhelmed. This salad does just that. There are lots of ingredients here and that presents you with an opportunity for culinary exploration. You can vary the proportions, drop some of these ingredients, and add others — although this recipe already uses most of the garden already. This is one of those “you can’t fail” recipes you’ll always come back to.

And you have choices on how much you serve each person. It can be a side salad, the perfect accompaniment for some protein in the form of fish, poultry or red meat. Or, you can get out a bigger set of salad spoons, and simply adorn the plates with lots of salad [this recipe suggests a yield of 4 servings which will be big]. It truly is a wonderful meal unto itself.

Perfect Tuscan Panzanella

Yield: Serves 4 generously

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups torn pieces of sourdough or rustic peasant bread 1 to 1-½ inches wide
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup thinly sliced red onions
  • 5 assorted ripe heirloom tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on size and shape
  • 1 red bell pepper, julienned
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, julienned
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced, fronds reserved
  • ½ cup pitted and halved Nicoise olives
  • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • ¼ cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

In a bowl, toss the bread with the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Spread the bread on a baking sheet and bake for 7 to 10 minutes, until slightly crisp. (The pieces should not be a crispy as croutons.) Alternatively, spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and let them dry, uncovered, for about 24 hours.

In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, capers, zest, and garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Whisking constantly, add the extra-virgin olive oil in a stream until well incorporated.

Add the onion, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumber, fennel, and olives and toss with the vinaigrette. Adjust the salt and pepper.

Tear the fennel fronds and add them to the bowl along with the basil and bread. Toss to coat. Set aside for 20 minutes.

Divide the salad among 4 plates. Garnish each plate with shaved cheese and serve. If you prefer a moister salad, drizzle with a little more extra-virgin olive oil.

Servings: I’m not sure!