I am traditionally in charge of bringing salad to food related events, which is a role I have come to have a love/hate relationship with. On one hand, salad is kind of boring. I mean, yes, there are choices, but when having a big dinner I usually just want a garden salad. Okay, salad isn't boring, but I am generally boring when it comes to salad. I'll admit it. Save your spinach salad with strawberries and walnuts. Save your weird pasta salad with uncooked noodles and some kind of weird seeds. I just want a big bowl of crunchy lettuce, with tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms, peppers, and maybe some snap peas. Once, at a family gathering, it was said: "Kate, nobody tosses a salad like you."
... Cue the uncomfortable silence... and then the hysterical laughter...
So I usually just make a regular salad. On the other hand, if I'm not in charge of salad, someone else will be, and they're going to show up with a bag of pre-cut iceberg and a can of Mandarin oranges. That's not a salad people!
But I wanted to go out on a limb this year. I wanted to do something new. I also didn't feel like buying a whole bunch of different kinds of dressing, because I'm cheap and someone always complains that there's no light ranch.
This isn't a family recipe, but it feels like it should be. My family's Italian, and I feel like there are some good Italian influences in my cooking (I love pasta, I only believe in using olive oil, I'll slow cook anything in a good tomato sauce...) Actually, I've only ever made this once before - about a week earlier - as an excuse to use up some bok choy. It came out amazing, and moving forward will be a staple in the menu.
Panzanella, like pasta or an omelet, is a good base recipe to have. You know how to make the basics, and then you just throw in whatever else you have. It also feels good to me, because I'm using something (stale bread) that would have otherwise been thrown away or wasted. Or used in French toast... damn, now I want French toast...
Moving on. The basic ingredients for panzanella are stale bread, tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, onions, and basil. Anything else, according to purists, and you've no longer got panzanella.
Okay, fine, we'll just call it bread salad in front of any purist.
My base recipe looks something like this:
- 1/4 cup (or less) acid (in the form of fresh lemon juice, or a good quality vinegar)
- 1/4 cup (or less) olive oil
- 1/4 cup fresh herbs
- 1 pound stale bread
- Up to 3 cups vegetables
- Salt and pepper
My two recipes looked like this:
Cucumber and Bok Choy Panzanella
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 1/4 cup olive oil plus additional
- 1/4 cup minced red onion
- 3 tbsp basil chiffonade (long, thin strips)
- 2 tbsp minced garlic scapes
- 2 tsp sea salt, divided
- freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 half of a large cucumber, quartered and roughly chopped - about 1 cup
- 1 lb stale bread, any kind
- 1 head bok choy
- 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
Meanwhile, heat a grill. Cut the bread into large slices (I actually used brat buns, and just sliced them in half as you would to put a brat on them) and brush both sides with olive oil. Grill the bread on both sides until just toasted, and set aside. Next, pull the bok choy apart into its separate leaves, and season with salt on both sides. Place each bok choy leaf on the grill for about a minute per side. The stems should be just softened, and the edges of the leaves should be starting to char.
Slice the bread into 1 inch cubes. Roughly chop the bok choy.
Add the cucumbers and their liquid to the oil and vinegar and stir to combine. Gently fold in the bread, bok choy, and cheese, making sure that the liquid is evenly distributed amongst the bread. You don't want a pool at the bottom, causing that bread to get soggy. The best way to do this is to start with a bowl much larger than you'll need for everything, and then mix with your hands.
This was a perfect accompaniment for lime marinated grilled salmon on a hot night.
- 1/8 cup lemon juice
- 1 tbsp champagne vinegar
- 1/4 cup olive oil plus additional
- 2 tbsp basil chiffonade
- 1 tbsp chopped cilantro
- 1 tbsp minced chives
- 1 tbsp minced garlic scapes
- 2 tsp salt, divided
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on their size
- 1 cup chopped cucumber
- 1/2 cup chopped young zucchini
- 1/2 cup chopped young yellow squash
- 1 lb stale bread
Heat a grill. Brush the bread with olive oil on both sides, and grill until toasted. Slice the bread into one inch cubes.
Add the tomatoes, cucumbers, and any accumulated juice to the oil and vinegar. If you don't feel you've got a full tablespoon of liquid, add additional vinegar. Add the bread, and gently fold until well combined.