Over the years I’ve tasted several Panzanella salads. Some featured pine nuts, some didn’t taste like any anchovy paste was used, some used green olives rather than kalamata olives, while others contained Mozzarella cheese. But the one thing they all had in common was toasted bread, fresh tomatoes, and assorted garden veggies.
And when it comes right down to it, there isn’t one that I wouldn’t enjoy eating again. I mean really, how can any salad containing toasted bread, olive oil, olives, capers, and fresh vegetables not be delightful? And the most appealing aspect of this salad, beside the taste of course; the contents can vary depending on whatever veggies, olives, etc. you happen to have on hand. This is Italian peasant food folks. Panzanella is not a rigid recipe that must be followed to the tee. It’s more like a rough guideline that can be different each time it’s prepared.
Panzanella evolved into the most commonly eaten summertime dish in Tuscany because every Tuscan housewife from the inventors in the 16th century through Tuscan cooks today have stale bread on hand at one time or another. And, like cooks everywhere, veggies that need to be eaten now! And olive oil, olives, capers, and good red wine vinegar in the pantry. Hence Panzanella seems to have almost invented itself. And thank heavens for that! There is probably no better dish to fix for family and friends on a hot summer evening. The dressing has such bold flavors that even bland flavored toasted bread comes alive when dressed with the tangy olive oil and vinegar emulsion. Add the crispness of the peppers, the saltiness of the kalamata olives, the bite from the red onion, the subtle peppery flavor from fresh basil, and you have a salad literally bursting with flavor. And nary a morsel of meat to be found!
So next time you need a salad that can be served as either a side or as a main dish, give Panzanella a try. And if you don’t happen to have both red and yellow peppers on hand, no big deal. Use what you have. Have tomatoes coming out of your ears? Add more than suggested below. Be creative. Remember, it’s a rustic salad and not meant to be exactly the same each time it’s served. Enjoy!
- 2 T. capers, drained and roughly chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 tsp. anchovy paste
- ½ tsp. Dijon mustard
- freshly ground black pepper
- ½ tsp. kosher salt
- ¼ c. vegetable stock
- ¼ c. red wine vinegar
- ½ c. extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large, ripe tomatoes seeded and diced
- 1 English cucumber partially peeled, seeded, and diced
- ½ red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
- 6 c. rustic bread cubes, toasted
- 1/3 c. halved pitted kalamata olives
- 1/3-1/2 c. fresh basil chiffonade
Whisk together the capers, garlic, anchovy paste, mustard, pepper, salt, stock, vinegar, and olive oil. Set aside. In a large bowl combine the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, peppers, bread cubes, olives, and basil. Pour the dressing over all and toss until well combined. Serve immediately.