I don’t know about y’all but, like me, I’ll bet right about now y’all have some stale bread that has seen its better days, a bowl of tomatoes so ripe they’re about to pop and all of them fixin’ to get spots on them. Well. I let me tell you. I recently returned from a quick trip to the kitchen where I questioned, “What is it we’re going to have for dinner… tonight… again?” Jeez. One.More.Time. Anyway, I took a whirlwind inventory. Stale bread is over by the onions. Tomatoes, on the counter under paper towel roll. The starting to get soft cukes and bell peppers are literally, chillin’. Panzanella. Stale, dry bread which has been reinvigorated by a brisk vinaigrette and whatever peppers, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumber, basil, olives… whatever it is I have on hand. That’s what we’ll have. And just like that dinner is born. Do y’all sometimes find preparing dinner to be somewhat tedious? Good Lord. When does it end? Everyday, at some point, I ask myself, “Got dammit. Didn’t I just do that (dinner) last night? God. It will not go away.” I get all resentful and uppity, heated irritation builds up and rumbles about inside me, when creativity hits me with her rainbow magic wand and it comes to me what we’ll have for dinner. Thankfully, there is peace again in my kingdom. But, really, it’s such a bloody chore. Like death and taxes, there will always be dinner, looming in the not so far horizon. But today is a good day. Because there is no carved in stone recipe. You see, the only required ingredient is bread. And as we already established, we have stale bread in the pantry. Tomatoes would be nice but these are desperate times, not really but no one likes to throw out food, and you can sub them for other vegetables. I thought I had cucumbers but I don’t and I know I don’t have basil, however, I happen to know I have an enormous bunch of flat leaf parsley chilling alongside the bell peppers which have to be eaten and eaten soon. Here’s the deal, though. You can throw almost ANY cold, cooked or not cooked vegetable in this salad. Is that great news or what? There’s just nothing better than throwing some leftovers and stuff in a bowl and calling it dinner. Panzanella typically doesn’t have a whole bunch going on so don’t think you have to get rid of everything but the kitchen sink in order to put this salad together. Traditionally the salad consists of cubed or torn pieces of old, DRY bread, chunks of tomatoes, bell pepper, cucumber and red onion. But the purpose behind this salad is to use up old bread and vegetables rather than waste. That said, here are some ingredients that really shine in this dish. Fresh basil, flat leaf parsley or mint bring brightness to your plate. I use only one of the herbs but after that I load up on vegetables. The following all work well: tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, onion, olives, arugula, cooked asparagus, brussel sprouts and green beans. Really, the list could go on and on. After that, all you need is about 1/2 cup of homemade or store bought (but why?) vinaigrette. The bread cubes need to be, not only stale, but dry. They can be toasted off earlier in the day and the vegetables can be chopped earlier as well but kept separate from the bread. The tomatoes need to be salted and drained over a bowl. The juices given off by the tomatoes are poured right into the vinaigrette you’ll be using to dress the salad. If you have a knob of fresh mozzarella you don’t want to go sour, well, chop it up and toss it in the mix. That goes for the leftover roasted chicken or grilled flank steak… (as if there’s EVER any leftover flank steak, but still). There’s kinda no wrong way. And it’s a salad soooo it negates anything you ate earlier in the day, on this, our mandatory staycation. Stay well, gentle reader, and don’t throw out any good food.
Bread Salad or Panzanella
- 5 cups stale bread, cut or torn into 1-inch pieces
- 4 large plum tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 bell peppers
- 2 cucumbers
- 1 large bunch fresh basil, flat leaf parsley or mint, leaves only
- 1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion or onion of your choice
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cubed or cooked meat or vegetable you have on hand, all are optional
- 1/2 cup vinaigrette, preferably homemade
- salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
- Lightly toast bread until dry and crisp. Set aside to cool.
- Place a colander over a bowl. Cut tomatoes into bite size pieces and transfer cut tomatoes to colander. Sprinkle tomatoes with salt and toss lightly to coat. Allow salted tomatoes to drain for 10-15 minutes. Save juices.
- Cut peppers, cucumbers and any other vegetables or meat added into bite size pieces.
- To peppers and cucumbers, add fresh herbs, onion and toss well.
- Add any cheese being used to peppers.
- Add tomatoes to vegetable bowl, lightly toss, then add toasted bread and again toss to coat.
- Mix drained tomato juices with vinaigrette, pour over salad and toss well.
- Taste for any needed salt and pepper and serve.