Panzanella is a popular bread salad from Italy, celebrating summer flavors of ripe tomatoes, cool crunchy cucumbers, and fresh basil. It is one of those peasant foods using simple ingredients that has become fancy enough for restaurant menus and party spreads.
Panzanella is made using stale bread, day-old or even week-old. Don’t try to use fresh-baked bread because it will get soggy when tossed into the salad. Stale bread crisps nicely in the oven and retains its texture when tossed in dressing, so it’s important to use bread that’s at least a day old. I like using a baguette or ciabatta, but any hearty crusty bread would work. I routinely toss scraps of leftover bread in a Ziploc in the freezer, and when the bag is full, I’m ready to make another batch of panzanella.
It was in one of these regular panzanella-making moments when the idea dawned on me to roast salmon in the oven along with the bread cubes. My son had requested salmon for dinner that night, and I had planned on making panzanella anyway, so I thought, why not combine the two? I think I hit upon a new favorite twist on panzanella.
Conveniently enough, I found that the salmon pieces cooked in the same time it took to toast the bread pieces in the oven. (If you’re skipping the salmon, you can toast the bread cubes in a skillet with some olive oil.) I don’t like raw onions, so I tossed onions in with the salmon and bread, and they softened nicely. But if you like the bite of raw onion, you can toss them into the salad uncooked.
I’ve served panzanella at umpteen parties and potlucks, always to rave reviews. Soemtimes I’ll make a Greek version by adding feta cheese and olives. Sometimes I’ll add other crunchy veggies like sugar snap peas or carrots. Or freshly shucked corn when it’s in season. Play around with it and add your favorite veggies.
Let the salad sit for about half an hour to let the bread soak in all the wonderful, fresh flavors. The bread will burst with flavor in every bite, and it’s probably my favorite part of the salad. Still crunchy and chewy, but full of flavor. Never throw out stale bread again!
Salmon Panzanella Recipe
- 1 Tbsp capers, drained
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1 (approx 1 lb) pkg salmon, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 5 cups cubed baguette or ciabatta bread (day-old is fine)
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- Half a red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 cups chopped tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes
- 2 cups sliced cucumbers (preferably Persian or hothouse)
- 1 bell pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
- Vinaigrette (or use 1/3 cup bottled dressing):
- 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1/2 tsp crushed garlic, or 1/2 cube frozen Crushed Garlic
- 2 Tbsp Orange Muscat vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Pinch of black pepper
- Preheat oven to 450° degrees F.
- Season salmon with salt and pepper. Toss with 1 Tbsp olive oil until pieces are evenly coated.
- Toss bread cubes with 1 Tbsp olive oil until evenly coated. Place salmon, bread, and onion on a baking sheet in a single layer (or if you prefer the bite of raw onion, reserve uncooked). Bake for 6-7 minutes or until salmon is just cooked through, stirring halfway to roast evenly.
- In a large bowl, combine tomatoes, cucumbers, bell pepper, capers, and basil. Add salmon, bread, and onions.
- Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients(or use bottled dressing), add to bowl, and toss until evenly coated. For optimum flavor, allow salad to sit for 30 minutes for flavors to meld.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes