Eventually I began to appreciate the way my dad could take one basic salad recipe and modify it so many different ways to keep it fresh and new. Back then, the basic recipe was tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, parsley (or basil, or mint), olive oil, vinegar, and a bit of salt and pepper.
We liked to dip our bread, but if the day-old bread was really hard it got ripped up into pieces and tossed into the salad.
As an adult, it always amuses me when I see recipes for panzanella salad that are miles long and require ridiculous amounts of prep time, because the most delicious salads I've ever tasted were put together in less than 10 minutes. Sometimes I think that people complicate things for no reason. Panzanella salad was originally a way to use up leftover bread instead of throwing it out. It was about being frugal. Hardened bread would be broken into chunks and added to the salad. As the bread soaked up the juices, it would soften, making it edible. It also helped keep people feeling full for longer.
I know there are gourmet versions out there, and if that's what you're looking for, I'm sure you'll find them. This is not one of them. This is the salad I put together when the expensive gluten free bread or baguette I bought for my son is getting hard and I can't stand to watch $6 worth of food get thrown out. It's the salad I make on a hot Sunday afternoon when I don't want to cook. It's the salad I make when I'm feeling a bit homesick here in Paris, and I'm remembering large family dinners with my cousins and my grandmother practically dousing the salad in olive oil and vinegar so that each kid would have enough juice to dunk their bread in. It's simple, rustic, and just the way I like it.
Panzanella Salad with Bocconcini Cheese
Serves 4 as a side
This recipe doesn't include cucumber because I didn't have any when I made it, but I would suggest adding half a chopped cucumber. I use chives or green onions instead of red because my kids won't eat it with red onions. The bread should be a bit stale, but if not you can still use fresh bread. Gluten free croutons would work fine too.
- 500 grams cherry tomatoes, halved (one carton)
- 20 mini balls of bocconcini cheese
- handful of snipped chives, green onions, or 1/2 a red onion, chopped
- 250 grams olives
- 1/4 gluten free baguette, or about 3 slices gluten free bread, torn into bite sized pieces
- 5 basil leaves, torn (or substitute parsley)
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- Vinegar or fresh lemon juice to taste
- Salt & pepper to taste
1- Wash the tomatoes and remove any stems. Slice in halves and place in the bowl.
2- Drain the bocconcini cheese, and place in the bowl with the tomatoes. Add the olives (I like green, but black olives work just as well), chives, and torn basil leaves. Tear the basil leaves with your hand. Chopping with a metal knife will cause the leaves to turn black more quickly. Tear the bread into bite sized pieces and add to the salad.
3- In a small container prepare the dressing by mixing together the olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar, and the salt and pepper .When the flavour is the way you like it, pour it over the salad and toss well.
Ideally, the salad should sit for a few minutes to let the flavours mingle and the bread soak up some of the juices, but I can understand if you can't wait and just dig in! Enjoy!