Panzanella, essentially an Italian bread salad, is an easy, one-dish meal that makes perfect use of stale bread and whatever bounty of fresh summer veggies and herbs you have on hand. This panzanella recipe makes extra dressing that you can use on other salads and vegetables all week.
My Take on Panzanella
In the 16th century, the dish was made by soaking stale, unsalted Tuscan bread in water and squeezing it dry before adding onions, wild greens, and cucumbers. This combination was known as “panzana” or soup, and tomatoes weren’t commonly added until the 20th century.
Panzanella has come a long way in a few hundred years, but it’s still a great way to use stale bread, as well as a less-than-perfect loaf.
Rather than soaking it in water, I think I’ll stick with my version, which is not only full of cucumbers but also bell peppers and tomatoes and topped with a simple, zingy shallot vinaigrette. I used green olives because I love them, but capers would also add a little pickled element that cuts through the rich dressing. My bread of choice is sourdough, but you can use French bread, or another thickly-sliced loaf cut into 1-inch chunks.
This recipe makes a generous amount of vinaigrette, by design, because I use it all week on greens and tomatoes with feta or mozzarella, and fresh basil. I prefer to use Spanish sherry vinegar, and I hope the original Italian recipe developers don’t mind the international improvisation.
Ball Pint Jar, $9.99 from Amazon
Perfect for shaking up and storing your vinaigrette.
Related Reading: 12 Clever Ways to Use Mason Jars Beyond Canning
Feel free to add whatever mix of vegetables looks best at the market, and throw in other fresh herbs from the garden. Panzanella is a pretty forgiving and flexible dish, and this vinaigrette tastes good with everything.
Summer Vegetable Panzanella with Shallot Vinaigrette
- For the panzanella:
- 3+ tablespoons olive oil or butter
- 6 cups of bread (sourdough or French bread), cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 3 mini cucumbers (about 4 inches long), unpeeled or 1 medium cucumber, seeded if needed, cut into 1/2-inch thick chunks
- 2 medium bell peppers, various colors if available, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 small red onion, cut into large dice (roughly 3/4-inch chunks)
- 30 large basil leaves, julienned
- 1/3 cup green olives, sliced or capers, rinsed and drained well
- For the vinaigrette (makes extra):
- 2 teaspoons finely minced garlic
- 1 medium shallot, finely minced (or ¼ cup minced red onion)
- 1 generous teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/3 cup sherry vinegar (or red-wine vinegar or another favorite variety)
- 1 cup good olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Heat the oil or butter in a large sauté pan. Add the bread cubes and sprinkle with salt. Toast over medium-low heat, stirring to avoid burning, for about 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Cook in batches and add more oil as needed. When the bread is crisp, put in a large serving bowl to cool slightly.
- While the bread cooks, make the vinaigrette (or make the vinaigrette ahead of time; store in the refrigerator, shake well before using and keep up to a week).
- Put all the ingredients into a medium (16 oz) glass jar with a screw-top lid and shake vigorously to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
- To the large bowl where the bread is cooling, add cucumber, bell peppers cubes, red onion, tomatoes, basil, and olives. Add the bread cubes and gently toss with about 1/3-1/2 of the vinaigrette, adding more as you combine. Season generously with salt and pepper. Leave salad to rest for 30-45 minutes at room temperature to allow the bread to absorb some of the dressing.
- If making in advance, make the vinaigrette, toast the bread and cut the vegetables, but keep all the elements separate and combine just before serving.
Note: Panzanella is best enjoyed within 24 hours of assembly. Refrigerate leftovers and refresh with extra vinaigrette if desired.
Related Video: Cornbread Is Perfect for Panzanella Too
Header image courtesy of Heather Reid