Thrifty Italian cooks used leftover or staled bread combined with vegetables for a summer dish called a Panzanella. I use crisp, garlicky chunks of baked gluten-free bread, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, basil, shallots and Parmesan cheese for a gluten-free version. To make it California-style, add avocado! Toss the vegetables with pleasantly peppery arugula greens, then toss with a simple vinaigrette. It’s the perfect summer salad with less bread than the original for lower carbs.
California Panzanella Salad
The gorgeous colors of heirloom tomatoes amaze me. Coming upon baskets of cherry tomatoes at the market I 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. For another twist, use herb roasted cherry tomatoes.
As Panzanella is a bread salad, I start by making large rustic croutons. Tear slices of gluten-free bread into chunks. Use two slices per person. Trim off the crusts, tear into large pieces, and toss with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, and 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 California Panzanella 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. Lastly, halve, seed and slice a ripe avocado for a buttery, healthy addition to the classic Panzanella. Sweet, savory, crunchy, garlicky, fresh – all of your sense will enjoy this terrific summer salad.
A Note on Vinegars
I’ve used Lucini vinegars (Cherry Balsamic and Fig Balsamic in particular) as well as artisanal vinegars 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.
California Panzanella Salad
- 6 slices gluten-free bread
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2-3 garlic cloves finely chopped
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 pinch ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2-3 teaspoons red wine vinegar or cherry Balsamic, fig balsamic, or sherry
- 1 garlic clove finely chopped
- 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 pinches ground black pepper
- 5 ounce container baby arugula
- 12 heirloom cherry tomatoes assorted colors, halved
- 2 Persian cucumbers seeded and diced
- 1 medium shallot sliced crosswise into thin rings
- 1 large avocado skinned and diced or sliced
- Parmesan shavings optional, skip for dairy-free
- Fresh basil leaves torn into pieces
- Pre-heat oven to 300°.F 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, avocado, shallot and basil leaves. Toss gently with your hands. Divide salad onto plates and top with crisp bread chunks.