Most people have never heard of Panzanella, which makes me very, very sad. It's a classic summertime Italian dish, a tomato and bread salad from Tuscany. It originated to serve 2 needs: a way to use up the abundance of ripened tomatoes, and stale bread. This variation doesn't make you wait until your bread is stale, so it's perfect to make any time tomatoes are in season! This is a very flexible list of ingredients, pretty much anything you would put in a salad could work in this dish. The proportions are completely up to you as well. This is meant to be a very quick and easy dish to throw together, it's a great cold lunch in the summertime, packs up well when you're brown-bagging it, and makes a perfect side for anything fresh off the grill. Bonus points for it being pretty, colorful, and ridiculously nutritious and low in calories!
List of ingredients (as shown above):
Bread (almost anything except sliced sandwich bread will work. Preferably something crusty, like Italian or French)
Tomatoes (go for a variety of colors and sizes!)
Vinaigrette: 1 part balsamic vinegar to 2 parts extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper. Place in a bowl or tupperware and whisk or shake until combined well.
Cut your bread in to 1 inch cubes, place in 1 layer on a baking sheet, and cook in a 400 degree oven until they're brown and toasty. Still being slightly soft in the middle is completely ok. 1 or 2 day old bread is preferred, but not required.
While the bread is baking, cut your veggies in to approximately 1 inch cubes or slices. The onions are best to slice thinly, cut the basil in to thin ribbons, and mince the garlic up very well.
Toss the warm croutons and veggies together, then pour on the dressing and toss well until everything is covered. The tomato juice and the vinaigrette will soak in to the croutons, making them soft and incredibly delicious! This is the kind of salad that gets better the longer it sits, but I can never resist picking at it as soon as it's mixed. Waiting at least 30 minutes, if you have the willpower, is best.
Like I said, this is kind of a "clean out the fridge" salad, or a "whatever looks good at the farmers market" salad. Other ingredients that would be great include spinach, peppers (raw or roasted), provolone or parmesan cheese, pepperoni, salami, or proscuitto, carrots, steamed or raw broccoli or cauliflower, artichokes, mushrooms, asparagus, olives, and a variety of herbs.
You choose the amount of everything you'd like in your salad. The bread should take up about 1/3 of the ingredient space, with tomatoes next in line, but other than that it's totally up to you, your preferences, or what you have on hand.
This dish comes in at around 150 calories for about a cup and a half of salad. Since it's got the bread, I find it to be much more filling (and satisfying) than a "regular" salad. The CDC recommends eating 5 different colored veggies every day, and this salad will definitely help you accomplish that goal. USDA's MyPlate suggests adults eat between 2-3 cups of veggies daily. I can fill up a quart container with this salad and it will be gone in no-time! This is really one of my favorite summertime dishes, and I hope when you try it you'll like it as much as I do!