Now that ripe, juicy tomatoes are abundant residents at farmers markets around the country, it's time to make panzanella, an Italian-style tomato-and-bread salad. This is one of my favorite dishes of summer because it highlights that can't-be-beat tomato flavor. It's also a wonderful way to use up stale bread, so it's a frugal option at this time of year!
Five summers ago, I made an heirloom panzanella with nearly every variety of tomatoes I was growing that year. It was a dish made for a potluck wedding reception in honor of two dear friends who taught me how to garden, so it seemed incredibly appropriate. It was also an amazing salad: bright and colorful from the various kinds of tomatoes, and fragrant with basil and garlic.
Though I provided that panzanella as a side dish, it can easily translate into a main course salad. As Virginia, the Home-Reared Chef says, it's a "sandwich in a bowl." Her version combines oven-roasted tomatoes with chopped, fresh ones.
Oven-roasting the tomatoes lends a concentrated sweetness and very intense tomato flavor, like nothing else you’ve ever had. With the added boost from extra-virgin olive oil, fresh garlic and basil, and balsamic vinegar, every bite is an unbelievable burst of garden freshness.
If you want a smokier flavor to your panzanella, try Sugar, Spice and Bacon's Grilled Panzanella Salad with Homemade Herb Dressing. It's a step away from the classic recipe, but includes a cilantro-and-parsley-laden dressing that Tara highly recommends: "The dressing can be made a day or even two in advance and the recipe makes more than you'll need for the panzanella, but once you taste it you'll want to put it on everything so you'll be glad to have extras!"
Panzanella doesn't keep well after about a day or two in the refrigeratoreven the stalest bread will eventually become too soggy to retain its integrity. But Alana of Sunshine and Bones suggests this remedy to that problem, if you're making more than can be eaten in a meal or two:
The bread was my favorite part of this dish (it was a tough race with the cucumbers though), but it started to soggy pretty fast so I would keep the bread separate and mix it in at the last second on only as much as you think you'll need (this way any leftovers can be stored separately and won't suffer from soggy bread).
Looking for even more panzanella recipes? Check out this list of recipe links from Alanna Kellogg.
What's your favorite variation on panzanella? Share your recipe links and ideas in the comments below.
Image Credit: alanagkelly on Flickr, shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.
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