There are some summer nights that it is just too hot to eat a hot meal; the idea of meat and potatoes is a little repulsive. With the tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers rolling in, a simple fresh panzanella seems like just the ticket. This classic Italian bread salad is a cross between gazpacho and bruschetta with juicy ripe tomatoes and cubed stale bread as the key components forming a cool meatless yet filling dish.
The bread should a formerly crusty artisanal type. As we frequently have leftover ciabatta, that’s our go-to. While most of the type, we are trying to keep bread from going stale, in this case, you might actually want to speed up the process by cutting the bread into cubes ahead of time and leaving them in an unheated oven to dry out.
When you are feeling your stomach just starting to rumble, start roughly chopping your fresh veggies, assemble your salad and toss with the vinaigrette. The key to this dish is time.
Allowing the panzanella to rest for at least a half-hour gives the vegetable juices time to mingle with the vinaigrette, and the bread time to absorb all the flavors. The bread should still be nicely chewy, but not soggy. You can up your game by adding some cubed mozzarella or shaved Parmigiano Reggiano for a little added protein if desired. Oh, and an insider tip: leave the salad out to rest. Placing it in the refrigerator tends to slow the macerating process, and while I’ve been known to save leftovers for my lunch the next day, it is NEVER the same as it is fresh!
6 slices of rustic bread (about 2 cups)
2 medium fresh tomatoes, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 small cucumber, chopped
1 small bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 small clove garlic, minced
Generous pinch of salt
Pepper, to taste
6-8 large basil leaves, thinly sliced
Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes and set aside. If possible do this in advance to allow the cubes to get thoroughly stale. Then roughly chop the tomatoes, cucumber, and bell pepper into bite-sized pieces. This is a rustic salad, so preciseness in chopping in not necessary.
Combine the olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, salt, and a few grinds of fresh pepper in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Toss the bread cubes and chopped vegetables in a large mixing bowl. Pour the vinaigrette over top and mix to thoroughly combine. I use my hands here so as not to break up the bread too much.
Let the salad sit for 1/2 hour to an hour. Add the basil chiffonade and toss before serving with a nice glass of chilled Pinot Grigio or a Chianti Classico. Buon appetito!
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