My parents’ cats had kittens exactly five days ago. Look at this face!
The photo is a little fuzzy, but then, the kitten is a little fuzzy. And not very inclined to be still, even while asleep!
I just love spring!
Speaking of spring and fresh produce and my happy little back-deck herb garden which I forgot to water for three days straight but has still managed to survive, how about some summer food?
You can’t get much more summery and fresh than panzanella salad, and if you make it with the right ingredients, why then you have…
It’s fresh and hearty and flavorful and wonderful for days when it’s just simply too hot to even consider turning on the stove!
It’s also a wonderful way to use up some leftover stale bread…really chewy, crusty, rustic Italian bread is the best for this kind of recipe! If you don’t happen to have any stale bread sitting around you can definitely use fresh, but consider toasting it up in a skillet or the oven before throwing it in the salad…you could end up with fresh veggies and mush, which would probably still have great flavor, but not great texture! If you want to use up some softer-textured leftover sandwich slices, dice or tear them up and toast them into croutons then add them into the salad at the last-minute to avoid any off-putting sogginess.
Start with a slew of fresh veggies and herbs!
I used tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, English cucumber, red onion, Italian parsley, and tons of fresh basil!
Also pictured in the background there are white balsamic vinegar (a little lighter and not as sweet as regular balsamic), extra virgin olive oil (go ahead and spring for the good stuff here…it stays raw and rich and wonderful!) and lovely, hand-made, fresh mozzarella (Be still my heart!) there in the super-blown, way too bright, over-exposed tub in the back row.
I’m a cook, not a photographer!
I also used half a lemon and two cloves of garlic, not pictured because I’m a space cadet. Oh, and half a loaf of really stale, rustic Italian ciabatta, also not pictured because I am a space cadet.
That’s two times space cadet!
And salt and pepper, but that’s understood, right?
Start by dicing up half the red onion (I made mine about 1/4″ dice…I like red onion in moderation, but big chunks of it can be pretty overwhelming, especially raw!)
Then pour a little of the balsamic into a large bowl of icy-cold water,
And then dump the diced red onion into the bowl to soak and mellow out for ten or fifteen minutes!
(You can skip this step if you really love raw onion, but I like that it sort of tones down some of that really oniony bite while leaving it crisp and fresh).
Mince up the not-pictured garlic, and mash it up with some salt to make a fine paste.
You can decrease the garlic to 1 clove, if you are the sort of person that believes garlic can be overdone.
Note: the garlic doesn’t get cooked, so the flavor is pretty powerful!
Slap the garlic paste into a bowl and drizzle over a few tablespoons of that lovely, refreshing, tangy white balsamic!
Or you could use a good quality red balsamic, if that’s what you have on hand. It would be every bit as delicious, and a little richer and sweeter!
Next, drizzle in several tablespoons of good quality, extra virgin olive oil.
Use the good stuff. You’ll really be able to taste it in the end!
And squeeze in the juice from half a lemon, just to give it a little extra freshness and cut some of the vinegariness (is that a real word?)
If I were using regular balsamic, I might skip this step since it would be sweeter and richer and the vinegar flavor is less pronounced. What do you think?
Next dice up all your veggies in 1/2″ to 3/4″ chunks. I like mine somewhere between salsa-sized and bite-sized.
I used English cucumber. Why English? Because they have tender, sweet skin and don’t require peeling.
Read: I’m lazy.
Two crisp, fresh sweet bell peppers. Use whatever colors you like…the more colorful the better I think!
And several wonderful, ripe red plum tomatoes!
Plum tomatoes are perfect for this kind of recipe. They have lots of flesh and very little pulp, which means they don’t make the salad watery and they hold their shape nicely!
Next, drain the diced red onion and pat it dry between paper towels, then throw all your diced veggies into a large bowl…
Along with your super crusty, diced stale bread!
And pour that wonderful, garlicky, lemony, olive oily, balsamic-y dressing over the top!
Don’t skimp on the basil here. You will regret it for the rest of your life. Just gently tear the leaves up into great big chunks (or leave them whole, if they are small) and dump them into the bowl!
Then roughly chop up a big handful of Italian parsley and throw that in too!
(My tummy is rumbling…)
Then give it all a stir, then lean in and inhale deeply and say a little prayer to say thank you for garlic, and basil, and olive oil, and balsamic, and fresh veggies!
(I mean it!)
But wait! There’s more!
You could stop here and call it vegan, but why oh why would you want to when there’s…
Plus, if you leave out the fresh mozzarella you no longer have Caprese Panzanella. You just have Panzanella. Still delicious, but not mind-blowingly delicious!
If given a choice between delicious and mind-blowingly delicious, I’ll choose mind-blowingly delicious every time. Wouldn’t you?
I would have taken a photo of the wonderful, creamy, tender, hand pulled balls of fresh mozzarella before I diced them up and stirred them into the salad, but I got so distracted sneaking bites that I forgot.
Dice up the mozzarella about the same size as the veggies and gently toss them with the rest of the salad.
Taste it for seasoning and sprinkle in more salt and pepper if you need it. You can serve it right away, or (if you have the time) cover it and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours so all the flavors can meet and fall in love and get married and make sweet little flavor babies and the bread can soak up all those wonderful juices!
Here’s the recipe!
Makes 6-8 servings
1 1/2 lb. ripe plum (roma) tomatoes
2 sweet bell peppers
1 English cucumber
1/2 small red onion
1/2 loaf stale, rustic Italian bread
1-2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons white (or regular) balsamic vinegar, plus 1 teaspoon
4 tablespoons olive oil
Juice from 1/2 lemon
2 c. loosely packed basil leaves
1 c. loosely packed Italian parsley leaves
1 lb. fresh mozzarella
salt and pepper to taste
Chop the red onion into small dice. Pour 1 teaspoon of the vinegar into a bowl of cold water and add the red onion, allowing it to soak in the vinegar mixture for at least 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, mash the garlic with salt into a fine paste and dump it into a small bowl. Pour over the remaining balsamic, the olive oil, the lemon juice and salt and pepper. Whisk until combined.
Dice the vegetables into bite sized chunks. Tear or dice the bread up into 3/4″ to 1″ cubes. If your bread is fresh, you may want to toast the cubes in a 400° oven for 10 or 15 minutes to crisp them up and dry them out a bit. Otherwise, just toss the bread into a large bowl along with the veggies. Drain the red onion and pat dry on paper towels, then add to the bowl with the bread and vegetables. Pour the dressing over the top and toss everything together gently. Tear the basil into big chunks and roughly chop the Italian parsley. Add the herbs to the bread/vegetable mixture and toss again. Dice the mozzarella into 1/2″ cubes and add to the salad, tossing very gently one more time just until distributed. Season with additional salt and pepper if needed. For the best, tastiest, most developed flavors, cover the salad and let sit in the fridge for a few hours before serving.
Eat and be happy!