There are two ways you can view this Italian bread salad: as a dish that really lets the best of the season shine or as a clever excuse to have your bread and eat it too.
However you choose to see it, panzanella is delicious and satisfying!
There's a lot of room for variation in this salad. Because of this, we give a lot of the measurements in ranges rather than exact amounts so you can play with the flavors depending on your personal tastes and what you have in your fridge. When tweaking the dressing, start with the lowest amount given, taste it, and work your way up.
Panzanella is best if you use the freshest produce of the season. Try to chop everything to roughly the same size, but don't worry about perfect cubes and wedges. This is a rustic country salad meant to use up old bread and take advantage of what's in the garden, so presentation is secondary to taste!
For the bread, choose a hearty country loaf or boule. You can use fresh bread, but bread that is a few days old will hold up better in the salad without disintegrating into soggy clumps. This salad is also best eaten the same day its made when the bread is still crispy and a little chewy.
Serves 8 to 10
For the salad:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 loaf or boule of bread, preferably day-old, crusts removed (if desired) and sliced into 1-inch cubes
1 pepper, red or orange, chopped
1 medium cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 red onion, chopped and held in a bowl of cool water
2 to 3 medium tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 to 3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and minced
8 ounce ball of mozzarella, cubed
3/4 cup (roughly) basil leaves, julienned
For the dressing:
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
3 to 5 tablespoons champagne, red wine, or balsamic vinegar
1/4 to 1/2 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
In a skillet or sauce pan large enough to hold all the bread cubes, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and the cubes of bread, and toss to coat. Stir every few minutes until the bread is golden on all sides and crispy.
Drain the red onions from the water. Combine the bread with all the other salad ingredients in a large serving bowl.
In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine all the ingredients for the dressing. When first making this dressing, start with the lowest amounts given and work your way up to taste. Whisk all the ingredients until they have formed an emulsion and the dressing is slightly thickened.
A half hour before serving the panzanella, toss the salad with the dressing (re-whisk if necessary) and let sit so the flavors combine.