Mid-summer markets are overflowing with beautiful, colorful, heirloom tomatoes. Need a great way to use them? Make Panzanella – an Italian bread and tomato salad.
Thrifty Italian cooks used leftover or staled bread combined with vegetables for a summer salad. In my gluten-free version, I use crisp, garlicky chunks of baked gluten-free bread, plus heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, basil, shallots and Parmesan cheese. Toss the vegetables with pleasantly peppery arugula greens, then toss with a simple vinaigrette. It’s the perfect summer salad.
The gorgeous colors of heirloom tomatoes amaze me. When I came upon baskets of cherry tomatoes at the market I just had to bring some home. And even though the stand had them separated into baskets of the same color, I just rearranged a basket to make a mixed basket of what I wanted. They are sweet, beautiful, and bursting with summer flavor.
Tomatoes are also a super healthy food, packed with vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and the mineral manganese. Plus tomatoes are a great source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant.
As Panzanella is a bread salad. Many recipes are mostly bread with a few vegetables. I’ve reversed that in my recipe. Less bread. More veggies.
I start by making what are basically large rustic croutons. Tear slices of gluten-free bread into chunks. I use Udi’s Whole Grain bread. You will find it in the freezer section of your grocer. The slices are small, so use two slices per person. Trim off the crusts, tear into large pieces, and toss with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Bake until crisp. Try not to eat them all before you make the salad. Maybe make extra. They keep well for another salad in the next few days.
Complete the Salad
Whisk up a light vinaigrette and add arugula, crisp cucumber, sweet shallots, fresh basil leaves and toss gently with your hands. Use a vegetable peeler to make shavings from a block of cheese and top salad with thin slivers of Parmesan that melt in your mouth. Sweet, savory, crunchy, garlicky, fresh – all of your sense will enjoy this terrific summer salad.
To make this a California Panzanella, add diced avocado. Avocado adds richness, healthy fat, and more health-boosting nutrients like potassium, vitamin E and B vitamins.
A Note on Vinegars
I’ve used Lucini vinegars (Cherry Balsamic and Fig Balsamic in particular) as well as artisanal vinegars I’ve picked up traveling from Crescendo (like the date creme and apple cider creme) to make wonderful vinaigrettes. Even a good quality red wine vinegar will make a fine vinaigrette. If you enjoy vinaigrettes, seek out and collect artisan bottles. You’ll be glad you did. I have a least a dozen in my pantry.
Italian Panzanella Salad
Serves 2 (doubles easily)
- 4 slices gluten-free bread (I used Udi’s Whole Grain)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 pinch of black pepper
Vinaigrette (double if you like to drizzle over your salad)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar (or cherry Balsamic, fig balsamic, or sherry)
- 1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
- A pinch of salt and pepper
- 4 handfuls baby arugula
- 1 dozen heirloom cherry tomatoes, assorted colors, halved
- 1-2 small Persian cucumbers, diced
- 1 shallot, sliced crosswise into thin rings
- Parmesan shavings, as desired
- Fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
- 1 small avocado, skinned and diced (optional)
- Pre-heat oven to 300°. Trim crusts from bread slices and tear into large pieces. Mix olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Toss bread pieces until evenly coated. Place pieces on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for approximately 12-15 minutes or until dry and crisp.
- While bread is baking, whisk together the vinaigrette in the same bowl. To the bowl, add arugula, tomatoes, cucumbers, shallot and basil leaves. Toss gently with your hands.
- Divide salad onto plates and top with crisp bread chunks.
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