Jul 20, 2020

Summer Panzanella Salad

Prep Time: 30 mins
Cook Time: 15 mins
Juice from salted tomatoes is whisked into a simple vinaigrette of white wine vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, Dijon mustard and red pepper flakes and served with tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and shaved zucchini in this Tuscan-style salad.

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Making panzanella is a great way to give a second life to stale hearty bread – in this recipe I use day-old ciabatta bread so that it’s not “break your jaw” tough but still is stale enough to absorb the tangy tomato-vinaigrette dressing. I also fry the bread in a pan in some garlic butter to give it some extra flavor and just enough crunch.

Summer Panzanella Salad

I like to pair this summery lovely panzanella with roasted chicken legs and drizzle the leftover chicken fat from the pan over the bread for an extra punch of flavor, inspired by the famous chicken at Zuni Café in San Francisco. I love picking up my fresh veggies at my local farmers market.

What exactly is panzanella?

A Tuscan chopped salad utilizing stale bread as the base. The bread is rehydrated from the dressing made from the juices of the tomatoes. I add an extra punch in this recipe by pan-frying the bread for extra richness. This bread-based “salad” does not actually have any lettuce or greens it is a popular Italian staple.

Summer Panzanella Salad-25.jpg

What’s in this panzanella?

  • Cherry tomatoes – The tomatoes are seasoned with salt to extract the juices to be made into a vinaigrette for the salad. Larger fresh tomatoes can be substituted in for the cherry tomatoes; simply remove the seeds and cut into 1″ chunks.
  • White wine vinegar – This balances out the other flavors with a bit of acid. Red wine vinegar can easily be substituted.
  • Dijon mustard – The Dijon adds flavor but also helps to emulsify the dressing.
  • Extra-virgin olive oil – While you can use regular olive oil I typically always use extra-virgin olive oil because of the robust flavor.
  • Unsalted butter – When cooking I always use unsalted butter so I have control and can adjust the seasoning using salt and pepper as I go.
  • Garlic – The garlic is minced so it’s evenly distributed throughout the salad and flavors the bread.
  • Ciabatta bread – I use day-old ciabatta (or another rustic Italian bread). Giving new life to stale bread, the cubed bread absorbs the dressing. I fry it in butter and olive oil for a little extra-richness!
  • Zucchini – When available I buy my zucchini at the local farmers market. I like shaving the raw zucchini so it’s extremely thin. This is achieved most easily using a mandolin but the zucchini can be thinly sliced into half moons by hand.
  • Basil – Fresh basil is an essential herb in Italian cooking and complements tomato and mozzarella extremely well. Flowering basil makes for a beautiful garnish on the salad.
  • Parsley – I always opt for flat-leaf parsley rather than curly.
  • Mozzarella – For this recipe you will want to use fresh mozzarella rather than it’s harder part-skim counter-part. To add extra creaminess substitute burrata for the mozzarella.
Tuscan-style panzanella salad with tomatoes, zucchini, basil and mozzarella topped with roast chicken leg

Steps to make panzanella

Step 1:

Make the vinaigrette by salting the tomatoes to extract the juices.

Step 2:

Drain the tomatoes and set aside. Whisk the juices from the tomato with the olive oil, vinegar, mustard and red pepper flakes until combined.

Step 3:

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-low heat, add the olive oil and heat through. Add the butter and allow to melt then add the garlic and the stale bread.

Step 4:

Fry the bread until golden brown all over and crisp, about 15 minutes total. Set aside and let cool.

Step 5:

Add the tomatoes, zucchini, basil, parsley, mozzarella and bread to a large bowl, tossing to combine.

Step 6:

Drizzle the vinaigrette over the top and toss. Let the dressing sit in the bread for about 5 minutes then season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

closeup Tuscan-style panzanella salad with tomatoes, zucchini, basil and mozzarella in a wood bowl

Easy substitutions for this recipe

  • Swap the cherry tomatoes with your other favorite summer tomatoes like heirloom or a personal favorite, Kumato tomatoes which are extraordinarily sweet. I always find the best fresh tomatoes at the farmers market.
  • Add thinly sliced red onion for an added punch of flavor.
  • Substitute the zucchini for other summer squash like yellow squash.
  • If you only have fresh bread but not stale bread you can mimic the stale bread by baking the bread in the oven. Preheat the oven to 350ºF and spread the bread cubes in a baking sheet and bake until the outside is crisp and dried out, about 10 minutes.
  • If prepping the salad ahead of time, keep all elements separate until ready to serve so the bread doesn’t get soggy.
  • Serve the panzanella with roast chicken legs or these simple salt and pepper chicken thighs.
whole roast chicken leg over panzanella salad

Summer Panzanella Salad

Print Pin
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Serves 4

Ingredients:

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes halved
  • Kosher salt as needed
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

For the fried garlic bread:

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium loaf ciabatta, preferably day-old bread, cut into 2” cubes

For serving:

  • 1 medium zucchini, thinly shaved lengthwise
  • ¼ cup (packed) basil leaves
  • ¼ cup (packed) flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, torn into pieces
  • Kosher salt, as needed
  • Freshly ground black pepper, as needed

Instructions:

For the vinaigrette:

  • Add the tomatoes to a medium mixing bowl and generously salt them, tossing to combine. Let the tomatoes sit for about 30 minutes to an hour, until about ¼ cup of juice from the tomatoes is in the bottom of the bowl.
  • Drain the tomatoes, setting aside the juice in another small mixing bowl and setting aside the tomatoes.
  • Add the olive oil, vinegar, mustard and red pepper flakes to the tomato juice and whisk to combine.

For the fried garlic bread:

  • Heat a large sauté pan over medium-low heat, add the olive oil and heat through. Add the butter and allow to melt then add the garlic and bread.
  • Fry the bread, turning occasionally, until golden brown all over and crisp, about 15 minutes total. Set aside and let cool.

For serving:

  • Add the reserved tomatoes, zucchini, basil, parsley, mozzarella and bread to a large salad bowl, tossing to combine. Drizzle the tomato vinaigrette over the top tossing to combine.
  • Let the dressing sit in the bread for about 5 minutes then season to taste with salt and pepper then serve.

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