I’ve often seen panzanella salad featured on TV food shows. I’ve been wanting to try it for quite some time. The opportunity came on a recent trip to Australia, when we drove to a beachside restaurant just outside Sydney.
Tossed with a dressing of olive oil and vinegar, panzanella salad is said to be a way of using leftover bread and tomatoes. But it’s really much more than that, because other components include fresh ingredients, such as bell peppers, cucumbers and mozzarella cheese.
Although it’s a tossed salad, it was served in the beachside restaurant as a composed one, with halved cherry tomatoes and bread cubes neatly arranged in a circle, in the middle of which rested some baby arugula leaves.
The salad was crowned with a generous mound of mozzarella cheese.
I’ve created my version of panzanella salad. I didn’t use stale bread, as called for in some recipes, and instead made my own crunchy bread cubes using a loaf of fresh baguette. I also used the freshest red tomatoes I could find. This is important because the juices of the tomatoes moisten the bread cubes and the other ingredients, and add a tangy flavor.
To make the peppers sweeter, I roasted them before tossing them with the rest of the salad.
At this time of the year, panzanella salad would make a cool, welcome change from the rich dishes we’ve had in the holiday season.
Serve it with Italian bread sticks and you’ll have a complete, light meal.
For the vinaigrette
1 tbsp chopped garlic
½ c extra virgin olive oil
¼ c balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the bread:
1 loaf crusty Italian bread (or just use baguette)
Salt, to taste
½ c olive oil
For the tomato mixture:
6 medium-size ripe tomatoes or 12 cherry tomatoes
2 medium-size cucumbers
½ c baby arugula (optional)
2 large yellow or green bell peppers
1 medium onion
1 whole ball of mozzarella cheese
1 c pitted green or black olives
Make the vinaigrette:
In large bowl, whisk together the garlic, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to let flavors blend.
Or you can also combine all ingredients in a mason jar. Cover the jar and shake vigorously to blend.
Prepare the bread:
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Cut the bread into one-inch cubes, then sprinkle salt to taste. Toss the bread cubes with the olive oil then spread them on a baking sheet. Toast in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, or until crunchy outside but still soft inside. (Do not toast them too long or the bread will harden).
Make the salad:
Meanwhile, slice the tomatoes into wedges. If using cherry tomatoes, slice them in halves or quarters. Peel the cucumbers and cut them into thin circles. If using arugula leaves, remove the stems if desired. Wash the leaves and pat them dry with paper towels.
Roast the bell peppers over the stovetop until the skin is charred (this makes the peppers sweeter). Peel off the skin, then cut the peppers into bite-size pieces.
Cut the onions into thin slices. Slice the mozzarella cheese into cubes. Combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, arugula, bell peppers, onions, mozzarella cheese and olives in a large salad bowl.
Lastly, add the prepared bread cubes. Pour in the prepared vinaigrette dressing and toss well. If desired, serve with Italian bread sticks.
Makes about six to eight servings.
Pour the vinaigrette dressing into the salad and toss the salad just before serving.