Three-tomato Panzanella (Bread) Salad

Panzanella salad is without question one of my favorite dishes to make during the summer. The key is to wait patiently until heirloom tomatoes, herbs, and peppers all come into season at the same time. Two weeks ago, a rainbow of peppers started arriving at the Santa Monica Farmers Market so I knew it was go time.

Not only does panzanella perfectly capture the brightness of the season, but the variety of ingredients and flavors make every bite uniquely excellent. Basically, each bite of panzanella salad is a summertime snowflake.




Useless Facts
  • Variations of bread salad are popular up and down the Italian countryside, though written history suggests panzanella originated in Tuscany.
  • In the 1500s, painter and poet Il Bronzino (the artist formerly known as Agnolo di Cosimo) mentioned panzanella in a poem. The recipe he described had stale bread, onions, cucumber, basil, and arugula that, "...wins every pleasure of this life." Tomatoes weren't a mainstay in the Italian kitchen until the 19th century so they are noticeably absent from Bronzino's poem. Interestingly, many of the "classic" tomato-based Italian dishes are quite new, relatively speaking.
  • The original purpose of this dish was to use old and stale bread so toasting isn't authentic. My recipe employs the oven to dry rather than toast the bread but I'm pretty sure the purists out on the Internets would still banish me. Food politics. Many traditional panzanella recipes suggest soaking the stale bread in water, squeezing the water out, and then letting the bread air dry. I'm sticking with the oven.

Recipe

This recipe was inspired by Cook's Illustrated's Italian Classics and Chad Robertson's Tartine Bread.

Ingredients (Rob and I can polish this portion off but it could probably serve three as a small appetizer.)


Heirloom tomatoes at Tutti Frutti Farms - Santa Monica Farmers Market

  • 6 oz bread cubes, torn or cut into 1-inch pieces (about 3 cups) Note: A neutral bread such as country or French is preferred. For this photo, I used some homemade bread ( aka Loppy The Country Loaf) that had a mild sourdough base. Fresh bread freezes beautifully so if you live near a bakery I recommend treating yourself to a fresh round. 
  • 1 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar or pomegranate vinegar Note: I use pomegranate.
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 heirloom tomato (about 5 oz), cut into 4-6 pieces
  • Handful of cherry tomatoes (about 3 oz) Note: I like to use both sun gold and traditional cherry tomatoes.
  • 1 small/medium lipstick pepper Note: A small red bell pepper can be substituted.
  • 1/4 cup red onion, sliced very thin
  • 1 tbsp fresh basil, rough chop
  • 1/2 tsp fresh oregano, rough chop
  • 1 tsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, rough chop
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

Bread
  • Move your oven rack to the middle position and heat to 300 degrees.
  • Spread your cubed/torn bread out on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 30-50 minutes until dried out but not brown (time will depend upon bread hydration and freshness). Note: I bake my bread cubes until they're completely dried out. The crouton texture holds up really well to the dressing. 

Roasted Pepper (Roasted peppers freeze beautifully if you want to make a batch.)
  • Turn the broiler on high, move your oven rack to the top position, and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  • Halve the pepper and remove the seeds and ribs.
  • Place the pepper halves skin-side up on the foil and broil until charred.
  • Bundle up the pepper halves and foil and then seal in a Ziplock bag. Note: This will allow the peppers to sweat so that the skin comes right off.
  • When cool enough to handle, remove the skin, slice into 1/4 inch strips, and set aside.

Dressing
  • Combine the pomegranate or red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Slowly add the oil, whisking as you go to emulsify the liquids.
  • Add the herbs, roasted pepper, red onion, and tomatoes. Gently toss to combine.
  • Cover and refrigerate the tomato mixture for 45 minutes so the flavors can meld. This time also allows the tomatoes to release some of their juices for the dressing.

Serving
  • Remove the tomatoes from the dressing or the dried bread will tear the mess out of the fruit.
  • Toss the bread cubes with the dressing.
  • Add the tomatoes back in and then gently pile all of the peppers, herbs, and tomatoes on top of the bread. Note: I find this helps the bread soak up all the juices.
  • Once the bread has had some time to absorb the dressing, top with some cracked black pepper and enjoy.

Additional Serving Idea

I highly recommend serving this salad with burrata. The creamy texture pairs perfectly with the vinaigrette and bright flavors in the panzanella.

Storage

This salad does not keep well in the refrigerator. That being said, the roasted peppers and dried bread can be made in advance which makes for easy preparation.


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