Panzanella salad with hearty Italian bread, tomatoes, shallots and basil, tossed in a light and tangy dressing. If you like, add fresh mozzarella cheese. Toasting the bread in the oven for a few minutes produces the best texture. How long you allow your panzanella salad to sit is up to you, I find 30 minutes to be a good amount of time for the flavors to meld and for the bread to soak just enough of the dressing without getting too soggy.
2 ¼lbripe tomatoesI used vine ripe tomatoes, cut into small wedges or cubes
¼cupred wine vinegar
2Small shallotspeeled and thinly sliced
½cuppacked fresh basiltorn
4ozfresh baby mozzarellaoptional (more to your liking)
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine bread cubes with large drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a generous pinch of kosher salt. Toss to make sure the bread is well coated (save the bowl for later use). Spread the bread cubes on a sheet pan and bake in heated oven for about 10 minutes or until golden (the edges should get crisp, while the bread gains some color and crisp but remains still a bit chewy).
Place a large colander over the same mixing bowl. Place the tomatoes in the colander and sprinkle with kosher salt. Toss briefly with your hand. Set aside for a few minutes to allow the tomatoes to release their juices in the mixing bowl.
When ready, move the colander with the tomatoes to the sink for now, and use the mixing bowl with the tomato juice to make the dressing. Add red wine, ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, garlic cloves, Dijon mustard, thyme, and a large pinch of black pepper. Whisk to combine.
Add the tomatoes, bread cubes, shallots, basil and mozzarella (if using) to the mixing bowl and toss to coat with the dressing. Allow the salad to sit for 20 to 30 minutes before serving.
Give the salad a gentle toss and transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with a few more fresh basil leaves, if you like.
Cook's Tip: It helps to cut the bread into cubes ahead of time and leave it out to dry for a few hours. Still, do not skip toasting the bread in the oven for a few minutes, this makes a big difference in texture and helps keep the salad from getting too soggy.
Dressing variation: You can pair down the dressing if you prefer something simpler. A bit of extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar is essential, the rest is up to you.
What kind of tomatoes to use? Any kind of tomatoes will work in tomato panzanella. I used vine ripe tomatoes here, but I love using an assortment of colorful heirloom tomatoes when they're in season. If you use small cherry or grape tomatoes, be sure to still cut them in halves to be able to use their juice in the dressing.