I thought that I’d missed the boat on posting this panzanella recipe, a delicacy best savored in summer months, but it hit a high of 104° yesterday so summer is still alive and well in San Antonio! A little front is supposed to blow through soon, but until then I'll be embracing all my hot weather favorites, and panzanella is one of my favorite things to enjoy during the late summer! The basil is bursting and the tomatoes, picked hot off the vine, taste like candy. However, the real star of show here is the bread! You know those croutons at the bottom of the salad bowl that everyone secretly covets? That’s the vibe here, only classier and even more delicious.
Italians have many creative and delicious practices for using up stale bread, but this salad is probably one of the best known and most loved ways. This isn’t a recipe for that freshly baked loaf- you want to use stale bread here, some that has been on the shelf or counter at least a day or two to prevent any of it from disintegrating into the dressing. On a similar note, panzanella is best prepared with crustier, more rustic types of bread: I love using sourdough just because I think it’s delicious and generally have some on hand, but ciabatta or the like would make a good substitute. Basically- the dryer and sturdier the bread, the better!
Although purists will insist that authentic panzanella never involves toasted bread, I am never one to be rigid about authenticity and love toasting golden, crunchy croutons for my version. This is an easy step that dries your bread out even more and adds another layer of flavor! Bonus points: the chef always gets to steal a few for a snack while cooking. It’s easy to make croutons in the oven but you can also toast your bread cubes in a cast iron skillet (I prefer the oven method solely because clean up is easier).
Another step that I include that isn’t standard panzanella practice is removing excess liquid from the tomatoes: I just set them in a colander over a bowl and toss with salt to draw out water. You don’t have to do this, but I think it makes for a less soggy salad. We are aiming for saturated, not soggy, in this situation! Let those crunchy croutons soften in the dressing for at least 30 minutes to soak up all those zingy flavors- don’t worry, they will still maintain some texture when it’s time to dine. I do add the more delicate ingredients right before serving so that they are bright, crisp and intact for my guests. Enjoy the last days (day?) of summer!
prep time: ~20 min. cook time: ~30 min. serves: 6
3-4 cups stale sourdough bread cubes (1” or so in size)
6 tbsp evoo, divided
kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal brand)
ground black pepper
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes, assorted colors
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp honey
1 small clove garlic, grated or very finely minced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup thin sliced hothouse or Persian cucumber
1 medium shallot, thin sliced
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1 cup lightly packed whole basil leaves, very large ones torn into bite sized pieces
1/2 cup shaved parmigiana reggiano cheese
Preheat the oven to 400°. Toss the bread cubes on a sheet pan with 2 tbsp olive oil and 1/2 tsp salt spread them in an even layer. Bake on an upper rack for 12-15 minutes, tossing half way, until golden brown and very crisp. Let them cool completely then store in an airtight container until ready to use (this step can be done up to 3 days in advance).
Place the tomatoes In a small colander set over a bowl with a pinch of salt. Toss to coat. Let them sit on the counter at least 30 minutes to draw out extra moisture, pressing gently with the back of a spoon occasionally to release any extra juice. Discard the liquid in the bowl and set the tomatoes aside.
In the bottom of a large bowl, add the dijon, honey, red wine vinegar, grated garlic, dried oregano, red pepper flakes, 1 tsp kosher salt (or to taste) and a few cranks black pepper and stir to combine. Slowly stream in 4 tbsp olive oil, whisking constantly to emulsify. Check for seasoning.
Add the tomatoes, olives, shallot and bread cubes and toss to coat in the the vinaigrette. Let sit at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour, and then add the cucumber, basil and shaved cheese right before serving. Enjoy!