Packed with fresh veggies and perfectly toasted bread cubes, Panzanella is a classic side dish that’s great for summer entertaining!
There are few things in the culinary world that can beat a well-made baguette. You know the kind I’m talking about. They’re crispy and hard on the outside, but once you tear into ’em, the inside is nice and soft. Our local grocery store makes several types of baguettes. The cheaper version is mere white sandwich bread hiding in a baguette shape. But if you splurge a bit, you can get one of the nice long French baguettes with that chewy crust and tender crumb. I could eat those baguettes all by myself.
To be fair, we have actually eaten those baguettes by themselves. One of our favorite treats is to pick up a good baguette along with some sort of soft cheese. Any triple creme from France is usually a good bet. It’s essentially like spreading soft butter on bread. Laura recently picked up a triple creme at a local farmer’s market that was made with goat’s milk and cow’s cream. It also has a “bloomy” (aka stinky) rind. I can’t wait to dig into that one!
But back to the bread. Panzanella is a simple salad of Italian origins, and it relies heavily on stale bread. Now we don’t often have a problem with stale bread around here. I just love bread too much to ever let it get stale! Whenever we make panzanella, I usually start with a small baguette, and then toast large ‘croutons’ that then get mixed with the tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers.
Here’s the thing about panzanella. You could technically use larger store-bought croutons. But the bread cubes in panzanella aren’t really croutons. They’re crispy on the outside, but they’re soft on the inside. In fact, I could barely make myself stop eating the toasted bread cubes as I was constructing the salad for these photos. “One cube for the salad. One cube for David. One cube for the salad. Two cubes for David.”
Aside from the toasted cubes of bread, panzanella uses a variety of fresh vegetables and herbs. Garden fresh tomatoes. A crunchy cucumber. A couple of chopped bell peppers. A very thinly sliced red onion. And a handful of fresh basil leaves. That’s it. Aside from toasting the bread, this entire recipe could be ready in about 10 minutes. It’s packed with fresh summer flavors! And since panzanella uses a traditional vinaigrette dressing, it makes for a great picnic side dish as there’s no need to keep the dressing chilled.
As noted above, the key to making an excellent panzanella is the bread. Avoid white, fluffy loaves. You want a good crispy, chewy baguette. (If you go with the softer, white loaf, then the bread cubes will turn mushy.) Similarly, I recommend tossing the vinaigrette into the salad right before you serve it. All in all, though, panzanella is an excellent side dish that would pair well with all sorts of grilled entrees. We make this at least once a month during the summer months. We’d probably make it more, but I eat all the bread before it makes it to the salad. Oops.
Did you make this Panzanella at home? Leave a comment, or snap a photo and tag me on Instagram (@Spicedblog). I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do!
For the Vinaigrette
- ½ cup olive oil
- 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
For the Salad
- 1 small French baguette cut into 1” cubes (~5-6 cups)
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 6 Roma tomatoes cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 English cucumber peeled, seeded and sliced
- 1 red bell pepper seeded and cut into 1” pieces
- 1 yellow bell pepper seeded and cut into 1” pieces
- ½ small red onion very thinly sliced
- ½ cup fresh basil leaves torn
- Parmesan cheese for finishing
For the Vinaigrette
- Using a medium mixing bowl, add all ingredients; stir until well combined.
For the Salad
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Using a large bowl, add bread cubes, olive oil and salt; toss until well combined. Spread bread cubes evenly onto a sheet pan.
- Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until cubes just begin to turn light golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool.
- Using a large bowl, add toasted bread cubes, tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, onion and torn basil leaves; toss until well combined.
- Add vinaigrette; toss until well combined.
- Cover and allow to rest at room temperature for 1-2 hours before serving.
- Before serving, garnish with grated Parmesan cheese.
Looking for more tasty summer side dish recipes? Check out these other favorites, too: