Quite often in the summertime I find myself invited to a barbecue or a party and looking for something to make to bring over. A lot of the time it may be a last-minute get-together and I will not have a lot of time to put something together or not have all the ingredients needed to make something like a pie or fruit salad. If you want to make something that will hold up well in any type of weather then a good alternative for you is to try this recipe for an Italian bread salad, or Panzanella Salad. You can find all kinds of recipes for this, but I used this very simple one from the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook and it worked out great.
Panzanella Salad (Italian Bread Salad)
1 (1-pound) loaf Italian or French bread, cut or torn into 1-inch pieces (about 6 cups)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, cored, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced thin
1 shallot, sliced thin
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the bread pieces with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon of salt; arrange the bread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast the bread pieces until they are just starting to turn a light golden color, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring the bread halfway through the baking process. Set the bread aside and allow it to cool to room temperature.
Gently toss the tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a large bowl. Transfer the tomatoes to a colander set over a bowl; set it aside to drain for 15 minutes, tossing the tomatoes occasionally.
Whisk the remaining 6 tablespoons of olive oil, the red wine vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper into the reserved tomato juices. Add the bread pieces, toss to coat and let stand for 10 minutes, tossing occasionally.
Add the tomatoes, cucumber, shallot and basil to the bowl with the bread pieces and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
There are a couple of things that can really make this easy recipe great. Since this is the time of year you will start to see some really good, fresh local tomatoes, use the best that you have or can find for a recipe like this. The flavor of the tomatoes makes all the difference. Even if you don’t have whole tomatoes on hand, if you have some great, fresh cherry tomatoes, simply halve those and use them and it will turn out fine. Using a really good olive oil here can make a big difference too. I keep a good extra-virgin olive oil on hand for flavoring things like this and the fruity flavor it adds really helps this dish. Also, use only fresh basil here, not the jarred spices. There’s nothing like some fresh basil with tomatoes. Just the smell alone is usually good enough for me, but it adds great flavor too. If you have a really dense loaf of bread, you may find that you do not need to use all of it for this recipe. Adjust the amount of bread you use based on that.
That’s all I have for today. Check back next time for some other recipes I have done or am working on. I have a great bay scallop recipe I just tried the another night to put up here and I have lots of good things to choose from in the freezer right now to make some great meals, so keep checking back. Until next time, enjoy the rest of your day and enjoy your meal!