My Favorite Panzanella Salad

If I had to pick one "nationality" of food that I would eat for the rest of my life, it would be Italian. I think it's the simplicity of the recipes. Not simplistic but uncomplicated. You can't hide any bad ingredients in an Italian recipe - you'll taste them immediately.

I spent 10 days in Rome a few years ago for an international workshop. It was in June and zucchini flowers were on all the restaurant menus. "Fruiti di bosco" too - wild berries. I think I had pasta with lemon and arugula practically every night! 

It's the different textures that make the Panazanella salad a hit for me. Toasted bread that soaks up the savoury dressing.  Crunchy chunks of red and yellow peppers and cucumbers. Thin slivers of red onion. The surprise licorice flavour of the fennel. Salty and smooth black olives and capers.

Keep this in mind when you are chopping the ingredients - you want a variety of sizes.  

It's one of those salads that gets better a day or two later. Perfect for lunches or picnics too. 

We have so few sunny, warm summer days in the Pacific Northwest that I take advantage of EVERY one and eat outside as much as possible. This salad is part of the regular rotation. 

Of course in the interest of photography I quickly ate a plate of the salad. I'm committed that way.

The recipe (adapted from Epicurious). It's meant to serve four but you could easily serve six. It's a LOT. 

And don't be intimidated by the amount of chopping - it doesn't take that long and the rest is just assembling the salad. 

Panzanella Salad

(print recipe here)

  • 4 cups torn pieces of rustic bread, 1 inch or so wide
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp drained capers
  • 2 tsp grated lemon zest
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 olive oil
  • 1 cup thinly sliced red onion (about half of a large onion) 
  • 5 assorted ripe heirloom tomatoes, cut into largish chunks
  • 1 red bell pepper, julienned
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, julienned
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced (love the addition of the licorice flavor of fennel)
  • 1/2 cup pitted Nicoise olives, sliced in half (I used black olives instead)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (chop these just before you toss them in so they don't blacken)
  • 1/4 cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat the over to 300F.

Toss the torn bread pieces in a bowl with the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Spread the bread on one layer on a baking sheet and bake for 7-10 minutes. You want them toasted lightly but not as crisp as croutons. 

In another bowl whisk together the vinegar, capers, zest and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. While whisking, add the rest of the olive oil in a thin stream until well mixed. 

Add the onion, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumber, fennel, olives and toss with vinaigrette. Add more salt and pepper if needed. 

Add the basil and bread and toss to coat. 

Divide among 4 plates and add cheese as a garnish.