Panzanella is a Tuscan bread-and-tomato salad that, like most rustic Italian dishes, manages to be both simple and sublime. It was invented as a way to make the most of day-old bread and a garden brimming with vegetables and herbs. At its most basic, it consists of a piece of a crusty loaf, perfectly ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper.
The bread is torn or cubed, coated in olive oil, toasted until crisp and then tossed with the rest of the ingredients so it absorbs the flavorful juices and softens a bit, but retains a pleasant crunch. From there you can run with any number of variations, adding other vegetables and flavor elements such as cucumber, red peppers, fennel, red onion, green onions, additional herbs, capers and/or olives.
Chunks or small balls of fresh mozzarella cheese are also nice additions.
In this version, I included white beans for hearty texture and protein, which turns the salad into a main-course option. To integrate them and give the dish a somewhat more elegant spin, I departed from the usual big, rustic chunks of ingredients and instead diced the cucumber and used quartered grape tomatoes and small bread cubes so everything is petite and bean-size.
Tather than overwhelm the dish with heaps of bread, I used just enough of a whole-grain loaf to get the juice-sopping effect while keeping the dish lighter, more healthful and more vegetable-centric.
It’s an easy-breezy salad that feels just right for a summer lunch or to take to a cookout or picnic.
Ellie Krieger: www.elliekrieger.com.
Panzanella With White Beans
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups cubed crusty whole-grain bread (1/2-inch cubes, preferably day-old)
3 cups grape tomatoes, cut into quarters
1 medium English (seedless) cucumber, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added small white beans or Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
2 green onions (white and green parts), sliced thinly on the diagonal
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (may substitute 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 large basil leaves
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium skillet. Add the bread cubes and toss to coat. Cook about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until toasted and crisp. Cool.
Toss together the tomatoes, cucumber, beans, green onions and thyme in a large bowl. Drizzle with the remaining 3 tablespoons oil and the vinegar; season with the salt and pepper, and toss to coat.
Fifteen to 20 minutes before serving, add the toasted bread cubes to the bowl. Tear the basil leaves into small pieces, letting them fall into the bowl, then toss to incorporate.
Per serving (based on 4): 300 calories, 10 g protein, 35 g carbohydrates, 15 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 430 mg sodium, 7 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar
Yield: 4 main-course or 6 side-dish servings.