Panzanella sounds like such a fancy dish. Ironically, it’s a rustic preparation that perfectly showcases the simple flavors of toasted bread, olive oil, vinegar, and ripe seasonal produce in what amounts to a bread salad. This is peasant food of the very best kind, most likely created when there wasn’t much to serve for dinner other than stale bread and whatever was growing in the garden. It’s just the sort of farmhouse style cooking that I love to create, serve, and enjoy at our family table.
While I have enjoyed versions of panzanella that feature fresh onions, cucumbers, and all manner of other delicious additions, my favorite is a dish that centers on the heirloom tomatoes we grow in our garden. I turn to this dish when tomatoes are aplenty. I am always amazed at how delicious it tastes given its humble ingredients and preparation.
It’s really no wonder that I love this dish so much. I’m a person who firmly believes that the dressing served at Thanksgiving dinner is the star of the meal. So, this salad of crusty cubes of seasoned bread tossed with juicy tomatoes, garlic, and basil is like my summer recipe dream come true.
This dish comes together easily. It’s a no muss, no fuss sort of preparation. While there is a good amount of slicing and chopping to prep the bread and tomatoes, it can all be prepared ahead of time and assembled before serving.
This recipe is ideal for using up a variety of types of ripe tomatoes. I use large slicing tomatoes alongside cherry and grape tomatoes. Large tomatoes can be cored and diced while smaller cherry and grape tomatoes are sliced in half or quarters depending on their size. The result is a gorgeous dish full of a variety of flavors and textures that you’ll enjoy eating right down to the last bite.
Speaking of last bites, don’t allow any of this delicious panzanella to go to waste. While it is most delicious the day it is made, leftovers can be transformed into a delicious savory bread pudding or reheated under the broiler before being topped with a poached egg. Like so many dishes, the flavor is even better the following day. Much like that Thanksgiving dressing I look forward to every year, I often make a double batch of this panzanella so that I can be certain that there will be leftovers to enjoy the next night for dinner. It’s simply too delicious not to dream of eating it on a second night!
- 1 large loaf of crusty bread (about 1 pound)
- 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 1 pound heirloom tomatoes, cut into bite sized pieces
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
- 2 tablespoons sundried tomatoes packed in oil, julienned
- 1 tablespoon oil from the jar of sundried tomatoes
- ½ cup basil leaves, sliced into thin ribbons
- 1 ounce Parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
- balsamic vinegar or glaze
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the bread into bite sized pieces (approximately 1” in size). Add the bread cubes to a large bowl. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of olive oil over the bread cubes. Season the bread cubes liberally with salt and pepper. Toss the cubes, adding another tablespoon of oil if needed. Spread the cubes out on a large baking sheet.
- Transfer the baking sheet to the preheated oven. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes until crisp and lightly browned. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow the bread cubes to cool to room temperature.
- Meanwhile, prepare the tomatoes by coring large tomatoes before dicing or simply slicing cherry or grape sized tomatoes in half or quarters. The tomato pieces should be bite sized, slightly smaller than the cubes of bread. Place the tomato pieces in a bowl and toss with the teaspoon of sea salt. Transfer the salted tomatoes to a small colander set over the bowl to catch the juices as they drain away from the tomatoes.
- In a small pot over low heat, warm the 3 tablespoons olive oil, sliced garlic, sundried tomatoes, and tablespoon of oil from the sundried tomatoes until fragrant. Continue to cook over low heat for 2-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. The flavors of the garlic and sundried tomatoes will infuse the olive oil with their delicious flavors.
- All of this prep work can be done hours ahead of time. The bread, tomatoes, and olive oil infusion can be allowed to rest at room temperature until you are ready to assemble the panzanella. I recommend assembling the panzanella about 30 minutes before you intend to serve it. This will allow the bread to retain its texture and give the flavors time to meld and be absorbed by the bread.
- To assemble the panzanella, place the toasted bread in a large bowl. Add the reserved tomato juices, tossing gently. The bread should absorb the tomato juice and soften slightly. Add the diced tomatoes, olive oil infusion, basil, and Parmesan to the bowl. Toss gently to evenly distribute the ingredients. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper if necessary.
- Allow the panzanella to sit for up to 30 minutes before serving. Serve at room temperature, garnishing with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or balsamic vinegar glaze if desired. Enjoy!