Recently I attended the High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, CA and it was HOT. So hot that all we could do during most of the day was sit in the shade. And drink cold beverages. And wish we were swimming. Luckily there was really good music. We finally left and went to Chico... where it was even hotter (yes, this story does have a point). In Chico we visited the Sierra Nevada Brewery and lounged in the air conditioning. Panzanella salad was on their menu -- described with all the fresh vegetables and... coldness... it sounded amazing. And it was. I couldn't believe I'd never had it before. Soon after returning home, where it was still hot, I had to make it again. And share it with you. Trust me: fabulous.
The details: Panzanella Salad is a rustic and simple Italian dish that utilizes day-old bread. Originally it featured onions, but now tomatoes take center stage. While it may be a travesty in Italian customs, you can feel free to add other veggies to your Panzanella salad. This could be served as a main dish, or a side dish with grilled kabobs or other summer dinner.
4 cups day-old crusty bread, cut into large but bite-sized pieces*
3 cups tomatoes, cut into large but bite-sized pieces (different colored heirloom varieties are especially nice)
1 large cucumber, skinned and seeded, cut into large chunks
1/2 large red pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 red onion, chopped into thin slices
1 large handful fresh basil, torn or cut into small pieces
1 cup fresh Mozzarella, cut into small pieces (optional)
1/4 to 1/2 cup flavorful olive oil (I start with less and then add more as I toss the salad)
3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
*The day-old/crusty part is important: if your bread is not dry, it will just get mushy. You can put the bread pieces in the oven briefly to dry them out more, if needed
1. Put all the vegetables, including the basil, in a large bowl and toss with the olive oil, red wine vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper.
2. Let marinate on the counter for about 30 minutes, or up to a couple hours (putting this in the fridge over night is not recommended: it will result in the tomatoes having a poor texture).
3. Once marinated, toss the vegetables with the bread. Add more olive oil if desired to make sure all the bread gets moist. Add the Mozzarella, if using. Let this sit for a few minutes to let the bread soak up the flavors a bit and then serve.
Enjoy and stay cool!