Make The Most Of Leftovers With A Traditional Italian Recipe For Panzanella

Elegant Entertaining On A Budget

My restaurant background demands that I plan ahead, utilize everything in my refrigerator, and create fresh and creative dishes that cost pennies. In other words, I’m frugal. So when I realized that I was often throwing out unfinished bread (I’m not a big fan of freezing it), I dived into the world of panzanella. Panzanella is an Italian word for bread salad. The first time I experienced it, at the restaurant Peasant in NoLita, I was mesmerized. The liberal use of herbs was the hook, especially when I began creating my own salads and realized that mint, basil, and parsley could be used interchangeably. If I had all three, great—if I only had one, that was great, too.

Here is some inspiration for approaching this versatile dish:

1. Plan Ahead For Leftovers

Think of this salad as a way to get use out of all of your odds and ends. Ensure you have extras on hand (i.e. next time you grill vegetables, make extra). For example, if you sauté mushrooms to go with a steak, make double and use the extra mushrooms later in your panzanella. Another example: If you’re roasting a chicken anyway, make some winter squash alongside it so that you optimize your oven usage. Whenever the oven is on for something else, wrap a bulb of garlic (top ¼ sliced off) in some aluminum foil with a drizzle of olive oil and remove it when the bulb is soft—as you’ll see, roasted garlic goes great in panzanella, too.


2. Throw It Together In Minutes

Panzanella can have over a dozen ingredients, but don’t get spooked; the process is really a matter of making a salad dressing and adding bread plus “bits & pieces.” All of my variations share the core ingredients of various fresh herbs, oil, vinegar, garlic, capers, and olives. I also regularly enjoy adding cucumber and onion. Major deviations depend upon the season and what you have on hand.

3. Timing Is Key

A panzanella doesn’t take much active time to prepare, but the dressing should sit for a while before serving to allow the flavors to marinate. I think of the process as prepping the ingredients (including the dressing beforehand and when you’re ready to serve), and then combining dressing with bread and other components.

The following recipes include the traditional summer salad, plus options to enjoy throughout the year:

4. “Traditional” Panzanella

½  pound day-old terra nova bread, torn into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
3  cups coarsely chopped tomato (about 2 pounds) or 30-40 cherry tomatoes, quartered
¼  cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh Italian (flat) parsley
½  cup thinly sliced red onion
½ cup coarsely chopped Kirby cucumber
½ cup pitted and halved Niçoise olives
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Zest of one lemon
½  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½  teaspoon kosher or maldon salt

1. Preheat oven to 400°.
2. Arrange bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 400° until toasted; shake the sheet and rotate after about 5 minutes. Cool the cubes.
3. Combine tomato and the next 8 ingredients (through garlic) in a large bowl. Combine vinegar, oil, zest, pepper, and salt. Add vinegar mixture to tomato mixture; toss well. Cover and let stand 1 hour.
4. Add bread cubes, toss gently to coat. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 2 cups)

For variations on my traditional recipe, check out two more delicious types of panzanella!

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  • Mom Town

    Deborah, can you come to my house please. Thanks.

  • Jenny, NYC

    Tom is funny. I really think that having the opportunity to read your postings and recommendations is like having you some part of your experience. I love using your advice! Really works for me.

    • Msaguilo

      It is like having some part of your expertice at home.