Just because a salad is topped with croutons doesn’t make it panzanella. This dish was originally conceived as a way to use up leftover bread in Tuscany, Italy the way the French created pain perdu to use up theirs, meaning the bread has the starring role and any additional ingredients are just supporting actors. Buy a large loaf of bread such as ciabatta, a country loaf, or a sesame Italian bread and use half for sandwiches or toast, then save the other half for this simple salad that’s just about the most perfect dish to make after a long day at the beach or pool. And one of my favorite ways to enjoy summer produce is to find opportunities to incorporate it into grain bowls, salads, and grilled dishes, not just relegate fruit to breakfast or dessert.
Deciding which medley of fresh fruits and vegetables pair well together can be as simple as remembering the phrase “what grows together goes together.” This means if the items are harvested at the same time of year, they are typically delicious when served together. Start with a traditional tuscan-style panzanella salad base of bread, ripe tomatoes, vinegar, olive oil, and some thinly sliced red onion. Then, use my outline for a few variations based on which summer produce is in season in your area. And while I love a farmer’s market as much as the next food editor, the combinations you’ll find here include items that can be found at most grocery stores. Not sure exactly which produce is in season at the supermarket? It’s common for stores to arrange seasonal items near the front of the produce department and in the beginning of their circular’s produce section to catch your eye since there is an abundance of those items at the time. Need to keep things vegan or gluten-free? Simply omit any cheese or meat add-ins and swap your favorite crusty loaf of gluten-free bread!
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Traditional Panzanella Base
- 1/ 2 loaf (about 8 ounces) bread, torn or cut into large pieces
- 1/ 4 cup vinegar, such as red wine, white wine or balsamic
- 1/ 2 cup olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- 1/ 4 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 8 ounces ripe tomatoes, any variety cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1/ 4 cup fresh basil or mint leaves, torn
Late Spring/Early Summer Variation
- 4 ounces (about 2 cups) strawberries or raspberries, halved
- 1 medium cucumber, halved lengthwise then cut into half moons
- 1 ear fresh corn, kernels cut from cob
- 1 ripe avocado, cut into 1" cubes
- 3 pieces ripe stone fruit (such as peaches, nectarines, or plums), pitted and cut into wedges
- 1 medium zucchini or yellow squash, sliced and grilled
- 2 cups ripe cherries, pitted and halved
Late Summer Variation
- 6 ripe figs, halved or quartered
- 1 eggplant, sliced and grilled or roasted
- 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced and grilled or sauteed
- 1 cup grapes, any variety, halved
Optional Add-ins (and yes, lettuce is optional in this salad)
- Tuscan Kale, thinly sliced
- Radicchio, torn into bite-size pieces
- Romaine lettuce, chopped into bite-sized pieces
- Olives, any variety
- Cheese, such as (crumbled pecorino, shaved parmesan, or fresh mozzarella)
- Meat, such as (salame, prosciutto, garlicky grilled chicken)
For the panzanella base
Preheat oven to 300F degrees.
Arrange bread on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake for about 20 minutes, until dried and crisp.
Meanwhile, make the dressing. Whisk vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until combined. Set aside half the dressing, then add red onion, tomatoes, and basil or mint to the bowl, tossing to coat.
Add seasonal fruit and vegetables into the bowl with bread and any add-ins and toss until well-combined. Taste and season with salt, pepper, and additional dressing to taste. Allow panzanella to sit for 10 minutes before serving into bowls.