The salad so nice, I made it twice! Twice in the same week, that is. It’s amazingly simple, and perfect for summertime when you don’t want to turn on the oven very often, and when a big bowl full of ripe tomatoes, fresh basil and good crusty bread soaked in vinaigrette is all you’d want to eat.
Commonly, panzanella salad is great for using up day-old or stale bread. I used day-old bread, but I’m sure fresh is fine too. It’s all gonna be soaked in a fantastic red wine vinaigrette dressing, so it’s all good as long as the bread is sturdy enough to hold up to the dressing.
Feel free to add or remove veggies at will! I’m a purist and didn’t want any cucumber or bell peppers (other common panzanella ingredients) in my salad, but go ahead and put in the veggies of your choice. The great thing about this salad is, aside from the tomatoes, vinaigrette and the bread, you can add whatever floats your boat.
panzanella salad with crispy parmesan
(yields 4-6 servings)
24 oz grape or cherry tomatoes, washed and halved
1 1/2 cups basil leaves, chopped into ribbons
8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into chunks
3.8 oz can sliced black olives, drained
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
6-8 cups good crusty Italian bread chunks (I used ciabatta)
for the crispy parmesan
6-7 oz good quality parmesan cheese (from a block please, no bagged
and pre-grated junk; I used a hunk of Grana Padano from Trader Joe’s)
red wine-dijon vinaigrette
(yields about 2/3 cup)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp honey
1 tsp kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tbs minced shallots
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Start out by preheating your oven to 350. On a sheet pan, lay down some parchment paper or a Silpat and grate your parmesan cheese right onto the lined pan using the large holes of a box grater. Scatter the cheese in an even layer, making sure to not have any overly thick areas. Chuck the pan into the oven on the middle rack and cook for 20-22 minutes, turning the pan when the time’s halfway up. By now, the cheese should be golden and somewhat firm, but still pliable before it cools. While the cheese is still hot, cut out pieces using a 3 inch round cutter, or just break it up into pieces. The crispy cheese can be prepared a few days ahead of time if you want, just store the cooled cheese chunks in an airtight container at room temperature. Otherwise, set the cheese aside, and let’s move on to the vinaigrette!
In a medium bowl, combine the vinegar, lemon juice, honey, salt, pepper, minced shallots, garlic (I like grating mine on a Microplane), and dijon mustard. Whisk until it’s all well combined, and then drizzle in the olive oil while still whisking. Taste the dressing and adjust the salt and pepper if you want a little more of each. This dressing can also be made a few days in advance, and actually tastes better if it can sit in the fridge overnight. I’ve found that a good tight-sealing jar works best to store the dressing, that way you can just vigorously shake the jar when it comes time to dress the salad, and bam, it’s all mixed up perfectly.
For the salad ingredients, you’ll need a very large mixing bowl. Wash and halve your tomatoes (I love the mini heirloom tomatoes from Trader Joe’s; all that color!) and throw them into the bowl. Gather a large handful of fresh basil leaves, and stack them in a pile. With a large sharp knife, cut the leaves lengthwise into 1/4 inch ribbons (alternately, you can do a chiffonade by stacking the leaves, tightly rolling them up cigar-style and cutting short-ways to end up with lots of small ribbon-y pieces). The basil ribbons can go into the bowl with the tomato halves. Drain your sliced black olives, and into the bowl they’ll go, as well. Add the sliced red onion, and the fresh mozzarella chunks.
Now’s where you’ll want to grab your good quality Italian bread and cut it into chunks. I found that two 4-5 inch square ciabatta sandwich rolls worked perfectly, but use whatever bread you like, so long as it’s hearty and it’ll hold up to being tossed around with a lot of veggies and vinaigrette. Cut the bread into 1-2 inch chunks and throw them on top of all the veggie goodness. Pour on the dressing and carefully toss it all to coat. As I said earlier, I made this twice and did it differently each time. The first time, I added the bread chunks last so that they were on top when the dressing was added, and the second time I cut them first so they were underneath all the veggies when the dressing went in. When they’re on the top, they’ll obviously absorb more of the dressing, so do whichever you choose depending if you like your bread with lots of vinaigrette.
This salad can be made up to a day ahead, just wait until serving time to dress the salad. If you pour on the dressing way before you want to serve it, the bread chunks just act like little sponges and suck up all the dressing, making it somewhat dry. When you’re ready to serve the salad, heap some into a pretty bowl, sprinkle with a little more fresh ground pepper, and garnish with a few of the rounds of crispy parmesan. They’re so good on this salad, like little crunchy croutons that you can break up with your fork or just take small nibbles of in between bites of salad!
Simple, pretty, and full of fresh ingredients, it’s easy to scarf down big bowls of this yummy panzanella. The dressing is my favorite part, aside from the crispy cheese, of course. I hope you make it, and I hope you love it as much as I do. Enjoy!