Juicy, ripe summer tomatoes, aged balsamic, toasted garlic croutons and your best olive oil combine to make Panzanella the ultimate end of summer salad.
Panzanella is one of those simple non-recipe salads that in spite of its minimal ingredient list, turns out to be so much more than the sum of its parts. Each ingredient is so important that I can’t pick the top player. Of course perfectly ripe tomatoes are the lynch pin, but they wouldn’t be the same without the fruity olive oil, the sweetness and umami of the balsamic and the herby greeness of fresh basil.
All that being said, my favorite part is the crunchy, garlicky croutons. I would happily eat a bowl of these croutons instead of popcorn while watching a movie. Ciabatta is a great bread to use because it’s open holes make a great crouton when toasted. Breads with a dense crumb will make hard croutons.
Eat panzanella quickly while the croutons are still crisp or let the salad rest and the croutons will soak up the juicy goodness while still retaining good texture.
Tomato season depends on not only where you live but also what the weather has been like this season. Generally they last June to September and the biggest tomato producing states are California and Florida where it’s nice and hot with good humidity. Enjoy this salad while you can, as summer is coming to a close and kids are going back to school. Although it’s still hot here, I can definitely tell the days are shortening by the way the light is changing in the afternoons. Soon enough we’ll be all apples and pumpkins so enjoy the last of summer produce while you can.
- 1 loaf ciabatta, or good crusty bakery bread of your choice. Avoid prepackaged sliced mass produced bread, it will not have good texture.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 8 tomatoes, any color and variety that are the best you can get
- salt and pepper
- ½ cup quality aged balsamic vinegar
- ½ cup best olive oil
- ¼ cup packed basil leaves, about one .66 oz package
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Slice bread into about ½" cubes. Mix oil, butter and garlic in bowl large enough to contain bread cubes. Add bread and toss to coat.
- Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden and crunchy, approximately 30 minutes. Start checking at 20 minutes.
- At serving time:
- Cut tomatoes into large dice and/or half cherry and grape tomatoes and put into mixing bowl large enough to stir tomatoes in.
- Season generously with salt and pepper.
- Pour in oil and vinegar and gently but thoroughly stir to coat tomatoes. Taste and adjust seasoning. It should be well seasoned add salt if necessary.
- If you prefer softer croutons, add four large handfuls to bowl, toss/stir gently to combine and let sit for a few minutes.
- If you prefer crunchier croutons, portion tomatoes into four bowls and add a large handful of croutons to each bowl.
- Sprinkle with a generous amount of basil.
- Serve at room temperature with a soup spoon to get all the tasty juices.