Today I’m sharing one of my more high maintenance recipes.
Not high maintenance in that it’s difficult to make (because it’s not!), but moreso because it took me a couple tries to get this one right.
We went through A LOT of strawberries, tomatoes, bread, and cheese in the name of getting this panzanella juuuust right for you all. And that is NOT a complaint.
This panzanella is everything I love about summer. It’s light, quick to make, and completely satisfying. It showcases the beauty of summer produce, especially fresh berries and tomatoes. It’s destined to be eaten al fresco with an icy cold glass of chardonnay or rosé in hand. It’s ideal for summer evenings.
It did take me a few tries to get this right, but it was one of my favorite recipes to keep testing. Even the “fails” tasted good!
The first time I made this, I put in waaaay too much bread. The salad was basically all bread with a few veggies. Whoops. There are worse things, I guess?
The second time I made this, I put the berries in too early and they turned to complete mush, thanks to the vinegar in the dressing. They were definitely macerated berries but not in a good way.
This version is my third take on the recipe, and I think I finally nailed it! Panzanella is not difficult to make at all, but there are a few key things to keep in mind.
One – use good bread for your croutons. For the love of all good things. I beg of you. It makes all the difference! A French or Italian baguette is ideal here, but crusty sourdough or seedy multigrain also would be delicious. You want something with some heft and structure so it can hold up in the dressing and not get too mushy.
Two – be strategic about the timing of making this salad. I think it tastes best roughly one hour after being mixed together. Less than that and your croutons will be too hard and will not have absorbed elnough of the dressing. Too long and everything gets…soggy. Soggy and weird.
And we definitely don’t want that, do we?
I prepped this final version in stages so that we could enjoy it over the course of a couple days. I made a huge batch of croutons and kept them in an airtight container on the counter. I also made the dressing ahead and kept it in the fridge. I prepped all the veggies and berries ahead too, just storing them in separate containers in the fridge (except the tomatoes – never put tomatoes in the fridge!).
When it came time to get ready for dinner, I threw half the ingredients in a large bowl with some of the dressing and popped it in the fridge for about an hour. Right before serving, I added in the strawberries and topped it with burrata cheese, aka, the greatest food finale ever.
We devoured the entire bowl.
And then did it again the next night! Easy peasy. Two dinners down in one shot. LOVE that.
This is great for parties, too, because it does need to be made a little bit ahead. Keep your life easy and follow my lead: prep as much as you can a day or so before you need it. Mix it up as you need it and live your best life.
Because bread salads really are right on par with that sentiment. Bread is life!
3 cups cubed French baguette
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
¼ cup store-bought or homemade basil pesto
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon honey
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup sliced English cucumber
½ of a large red onion, thinly sliced
1 pint strawberries, hulled and halved/quartered
8 oz burrata, torn (or fresh mozzarella)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fresh herbs, for garnish (basil, chives, etc)
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a large baking sheet with foil.
Spread the bread cubes out in an even layer on the baking sheet.
Drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle over the garlic powder, onion powder, dried herbs, and salt. Toss to combine.
Crack fresh black pepper over top, give the bread cubes another toss, and place the baking sheet in the oven.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, tossing occasionally, or until the croutons are golden brown and crunchy.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Whisk together the pesto and vinegar in a bowl. Whisk in the honey.
While whisking constantly, slowly stream in the olive oil. Whisk until the vinaigrette is thickened and emulsified.
Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.
About an hour before you want to serve, combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onion in a large mixing bowl.
Add in the croutons and about half of the vinaigrette and toss to combine well. Taste and add salt and pepper, as needed. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour.
Stir the salad again and add more vinaigrette, as needed, to ensure that everything is well flavored and moistened. You don’t want things to be sopping wet or soggy, so add a little at a time. The croutons should have absorbed the vinaigrette but still have some texture and crunch to them.
Add in the strawberries and toss to combine. Spread the salad out on your serving dish. Top with the torn burrata and season with more salt and pepper, if needed. Garnish with herbs and serve immediately.