When summer time hits, and the last minute asks for dinner ideas are asked, one of the consistent requests is panzanella.
Which I love. One, because it’s SO simple. Two, because it has vegetables and my kids are willingly asking for them. Mom win!
I’m not going to give you a recipe, because things like this don’t have a recipe. They are thrown together from the odds and ends from the fridge, farmers market, and backyard garden. The star of the show? Stale bread. I mean my kids want to eat something that I can make in 10 minutes, uses up scraps of food and is cheap? Heck yes!
I still think one of the biggest travesties of our Americanism is the ability to assume salad means green stuff. When living in Ukraine and served up a salad that looked nothing like a salad and explaining my shock and describing my personal take on a salad I was retorted with “you eat rabbit food?” And I started branching out on different salads (none of which has green stuff there).
Salads can take all forms, mayonnaise based, vinaigrette based, all greens, no greens, and nary a vegetable in sight (i’m looking at your pasta salad). Whatever your take is, summer is the best season for them!
One of my fav panzanella additions that I think takes it to the next level is something pickled. In my case, I use pickled onions, but olives, or capers would also give a lovely briney bite to things.
I like pickling all the things when summer rolls around. It’s basically one part vinegar to three parts water, and spices. I prefer white vinegar (apple cider is a bit too punchy for me). For onions I throw in a teaspoon of sugar and some peppercorns. Slice the onions (I use Vidalia) super thin, and add them to the brine. Shake little and refrigerate until needed, with a minimum of a few hours. They make anything good. Regular salads, cappers salads, grilled veggie sandwiches, in a different take on pico de gallo. Pickled onions are the jam. And they last in the fridge all summer long!
I start the panzanella process with marinating some of my veggies. My base usually includes cukes and maters. Take your pick of vinaigrette. Here I did a red wine vinaigrette (dijon mustard, red wine vinegar one part, olive oil three parts, S&P…if you want to get fancy add some garlic or shallots), I recommend only using a tablespoon or two to start. Toss and let sit and get happy while you prep your bread.
If your bread isn’t stale, dice it and toast it a bit (heck you could even use premade croutons for this, although it won’t be quite as good) with olive oil and S&P. Let cool.
Grab another veg. I had some green beans on hand, so I blanched those real quick and added them to the marinating veggies. Grilled peppers or squash would be great! Roasted brussels or pickled okra, would be good too! Throw in some pickled onions, toss and add more vinaigrette as needed (always add less than you think you need…you can always add more). Then cheese. It always needs cheese. Ribbons of parmigiana reggiano, chunks of feta, or slices or fresh mozzarella, pick your poison and toss it in. At the very last second before serving, toss the bread cubes and some herbs (basil? thyme? mint?). If you want to get a little crazy, or just firmly adhere to your version of a salad, throw in some arugula for a delightful peppery bite. Season everything well with salt and pepper. Serve!
I’ll often marinate some chicken in some of whatever vinaigrette I just used and throw it on the grill. That and panzanella make a delightful, simple summer dinner, and leave you feeling good enough about life you don’t hesitate to agree to grilled peaches with a scoop of ice cream in them for dessert.