One of Brett and my all-time favorite salads is panzanella, an Italian bread salad. In Italy, the traditional salad uses day-old bread, fresh chopped tomatoes, some herbs and garlic, and then is tossed with olive oil and vinegar. The version we love, from an old Cooking Light magazine recipe, is filled with lots of chopped fresh vegetables, and has added chickpeas and feta cheese to turn it into a stand-alone main dish salad. No cooking is required except for toasting the bread cubes. Meiling once asked me why I toasted the bread if it was just going to get wet from the oil and vinegar; I told her that without toasting the bread would just get soggy and fall apart; the toasting helps the pieces of bread hold their shape in the salad.
This is a very economical salad if you have a garden, but we can buy the ingredients nearly year round at the farmers’ market here. Although the recipe calls for Italian bread, like ciabatta, I use whatever I have on hand (I used Costco artisan rolls for the salad in the pictures, for example). The feta cheese can be omitted to keep the salad vegan. I also like that the vegetables can be chopped and marinated for up to two hours before serving. All that’s left to do then is add the bread cubes and cheese and toss the salad until the bread slightly softens. The recipe can also easily be doubled for a large family or potluck, and soggy bread or not, it makes delicious leftovers.
PANZANELLA WITH BEANS
- 3 TBSP red wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 cups seeded and chopped tomato (about 1 pound)
- 1 cup peeled, seeded and chopped cucumber
- 1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped red onion
- 1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
- 4 cups Italian or sourdough bread, cut into 1/2″ – 1″ cubes; toasted
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (optional)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
Combine the vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic in a large bowl. Add the tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper, onion and garbanzos and toss to coat. Marinate at room temperature for up to 2 hours. Just before serving add the bread, parsley, basil and feta and toss gently to coat, and serve when the bread has softened slightly.