A thrifty and very old-school salad, panzanella transforms slightly stale, too-hard-to-eat bread into a sponge for flavor that even picky kids tend to enjoy. I make this with a spicy dressing, but you can just make it with a classic vinaigrette if you prefer.
If you have room in the budget, try adding some fruit, like peaches or plums, to this salad for a sweet layer of flavor. If you are really swimming in zucchini, try it raw and finely chopped in this salad.
You can use any kind of bread you have around — old hot dog buns or sandwich bread — but I prefer a crustier bread for panzanella because it soaks up the most delicious vegetable juice that way. It was invented for tough loaves of Italian table bread, so go for the closest you can get to that.
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Adding stone fruit to panzanella is brilliant — why should tomatoes have all the fun? Stone fruit and grapes are sweet and refreshing, and all the juices mingled together to make a great dressing to soften up the toasted bread. I add peaches, nectarines, and plums (one of each), and threw in a summer squash that needed using up.
The way the dressing is made is also quite smart: chopped tomatoes are cooked with olive oil and the jalapeno to make a "sauce." I could eat this panzanella all summer long!
- Christine, August 2015
Spicy Panzanella Salad
small field cucumbers or 1 English cucumber
medium tomatoes, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
olive oil, plus a few drops for the pan
medium jalapeño, finely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
Juice of 1 lime
- Optional additions:
Chopped fresh herbs
Chopped peaches, nectarines, or plums
Finely chopped red onion
Chopped zucchini or summer squash
If you’re using field cucumbers — usually cheaper than English — peel them to remove the tough skin. (A little leftover peel is not a problem.) For English cucumbers, there’s no need to peel.
Reserve about 2 tablespoons of the chopped tomatoes to use in the dressing, but throw the rest of the tomatoes and all of the cucumbers into a large bowl. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper; the salt helps draw out the juices. Toss the vegetables and set aside.
Place a small saucepan over medium heat and add a few drops of olive oil. Add the jalapeño and sauté until it sizzles and smells good, about a minute, then add the rest of the chopped tomato and a tablespoon of water. Cook until the tomato juices release, another 2 minutes. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.
Once the water has evaporated, turn off the heat and dump the jalapeño-tomato mixture on your cutting board. Chop it up very finely, then throw it back into the pan — with the heat off — with the lime juice and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Stir to combine, taste, and add salt and pepper as needed. You’ve got dressing!
Chop or tear the bread into bite-sized pieces, then toast it in a skillet over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until the bread chunks are toasty on all sides. Alternatively, just toast full slices of bread in a toaster and tear them up afterward, or skip the toasting if the bread is already super hard.
Add the bread and dressing to the vegetables and stir to combine. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper once more. Let the salad sit for a few minutes so the bread can soak up the juices, then serve.
Reprinted with permission from Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day by Leanne Brown, copyright (c) 2015. Published by Workman Publishing Company.