Summer Panzanella Salad makes a delicious side-dish or light meal. It features gorgeous summer tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, onions, and toasted bread that soaks up a delicious dressing.
The Madison, WI area is entering phase II of its reopening after shelter-at-home orders due to COVID-19. However, the Dane County Farmers’ Market remains open only on an order-ahead basis with curbside pickup. We’ve had such beautiful weather lately and I really miss the strolls through the market, admiring all the beautiful produce and flowers.
What goes into Panzanella Salad?
We’re approaching the time of year when the heirloom tomatoes begin making their appearance at the Farmers’ Market. You know the ones: the big, colorful tomatoes that are usually bizarre in shape. What they lack in looks they make up for in flavor.
Because heirloom tomatoes have not been crossed with high-yield varieties, they retain their original genetic programming for juiciness and flavor. Bon Appetit has a great article explaining this here.
Precisely because of these tomatoes, this Panzanella Salad should, sadly, only be made during the summer. Hothouse tomatoes just won’t cut it. A mealy winter tomato will downright kill this salad.
Luckily, I have been able to reliably find heirloom tomatoes at my local grocery. I also sometimes mix in colorful snack tomatoes.
When I first described my Summer Panzanella Salad to Phil, he wrinkled his nose. Soggy bread? It won’t be soggy, I promised. And you’ll love it.
Day-old—preferably stale—bread is a must for panzanella salad. You want a crusty loaf that can soak up the dressing, but retain some texture and chew.
Like many out there who are finding productive ways to fill their stay-at-home time, Phil has been learning bread baking. His last batch of baguettes was superb, and that’s what we used in our last panzanella salad. We cubed the bread and crisped it up with a quick bake in the oven.
I should note here that for an authentic panzanella salad, you would not toast the bread. But I prefer the results I get with a pre-toast, so that’s how we do it in my kitchen.
Panzanella salads often do not include mozzarella. I like this addition because it confers some richness and creamy texture. You can buy a block of mozzarella and cube it yourself, or buy a container of mozzarella balls in liquid (usually whey, water, or brine), as I’ve done in the version below:
The dressing is an herby vinaigrette made with red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, yellow mustard, salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of dried herbs. You can mix it up in a jar ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator. Just shake it before mixing into the salad.
Thinly sliced red onion gives the salad a bit of crunch, while finely minced garlic rounds out the flavor. I make the vinaigrette dressing right away and add the onions and garlic. This takes the edge off the strong flavor you’d have if you added these ingredients to the salad raw.
Just before serving, I chiffonade some basil (you can also simply tear it) and sprinkle it over the salad.
How to make Panzanella Salad
(You can follow along in the collage below, or watch my preparation video) First, prep the tomatoes, onions, and garlic. Make the vinaigrette dressing (#2); add the minced garlic and sliced onions (#3).
Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes, toss with olive oil, and spread out on a baking sheet (#4: I use a foil-lined baking sheet with a cooling rack set on top). Roast in a 350º oven until lightly browned and crispy. Add to a salad bowl (#5).
Cut the mozzarella into cubes (#6). Add the tomatoes and mozzarella to the bowl (#7) and pour the vinaigrette mixture over the top (#8). Mix. Sprinkle the salad with basil (#9) and let rest for 30 minutes before serving (#10).
That rest time is crucial: it lets the bread soak up some of the delicious dressing!Panzanella salad makes a delicious side dish, but I have also eaten it as a light lunch. The salad can be refrigerated overnight, but I recommend eating it within 4 hours. Although it’s still delicious the next day, the bread will have completely softened. The basil sometimes also gets a bit bitter.
That’s it! I hope you enjoy this summer treat as much as we do.
Stay safe. Stay well.
Summer Panzanella Salad
FOR THE VINAIGRETTE
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar - (more to taste; see Recipe Note #3)
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp yellow mustard - (you can also use Dijon)
- 1 tsp dried herbs - (optional; use your favorite Italian mixed herbs)
- ½ tsp coarse salt - (or to taste)
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
FOR THE SALAD
- ½ cup red onion - thinly sliced
- 1 garlic clove - very finely minced
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cups bread - cubed (see Recipe Note #1)
- 2 lbs heirloom tomatoes - cut into bite-sized pieces (see Recipe Note #2)
- 6 oz mozzarella - cut into small cubes (or see Recipe Note #4)
- ¼ cup fresh basil - chiffonaded or torn right before serving
- Preheat oven to 350º. Make the vinaigrette dressing: whisk vinaigrette ingredients together in a small bowl. Add the sliced onion and minced garlic to the bowl; set aside.
- Toss the bread cubes with olive oil; spread out on a baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned and crispy, 15–20 minutes. Add bread cubes to a salad bowl. Add the tomatoes and mozzarella to the bowl; pour the vinaigrette mixture over the top. Mix. Sprinkle the salad with basil and let rest for 30 minutes before serving.
- Ideally, you want crusty bread that is a day old and stale.
- You want super-ripe—even overripe—tomatoes. Go for a variety of colors to make the salad beautiful. You can also substitute in some snack tomatoes, but I do recommend using at least half heirloom tomatoes.
- If you like a tangier vinaigrette, add up to an additional tablespoon of red wine vinegar.
- You can also buy the small mozzarella balls that are stored in liquid. Add those whole.