Panzanella, or Bread Salad

I’m sorry things have been so quiet around here. (Can you hear the crickets?) Life has left little time for blogging this summer, and I haven’t done a whole lot of creative cooking either. But I have completed a couple of challenges that I have yet to blog about. I’m hoping to get all caught up and then start a new round of challenges in the fall.

One recent challenge was seasonally appropriate: to make a cold dinner that was also satisfying. For this challenge, I wanted to use something from our garden, which means tomatoes. Naturally, I thought of one of my favorite salads: panzanella, or bread salad. Not only is this a great dish for enjoying dead ripe tomatoes, but it’s also handy for using up stale bread. The juices from the tomatoes soak into the bread and give it new life.

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To make this dish an entree, I added leftover grilled chicken and cannellini beans, along with an assortment of vegetables. They combined to create a satisfying, hearty dish for a hot summer night. The inspiration for the basic recipe comes from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan.

Main-Course Panzanella

Yields: 4 servings

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Trim the bread of its crust and cut into smallish squares to make approximately 2 cups bread cubes. Toast the cubes in the oven until browned and dried out, about 10 minutes. Put the cubes in a large bowl. Puree 1 ripe tomato in a food mill over the bowl. Toss the tomato puree with the bread, add some salt, and let it sit for 15 minutes or more.

In a food processor, combine 1 peeled garlic clove, 1 teaspoon anchovy paste* and 1 tablespoon capers,drained. Puree. Combine thoroughly with ¼ cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar and salt to taste. Set aside.

Meanwhile, prepare the salad ingredients:

  • Dice 2 ripe tomatoes.
  • Dice 1 yellow or red bell pepper.
  • Peel and dice 1 cucumber.
  • Thinly slice ½ red or sweet onion.
  • Thinly slice 1 breast leftover cooked chicken (preferably roasted or grilled).
  • Drain and rinse 1 cup cooked cannellini beans.

Combine everything in the serving bowl with plenty of freshly ground pepper, and toss thoroughly.

*I prefer anchovy paste (it comes in a little tube) to actual anchovies because I don’t cook with anchovies often, and then I only use a little at a time. A tube of anchovy paste seems to last me a good long while. You may substitute 2-3 anchovy fillets, if you like.

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