Panzanella Recipe

In this house with small-to-medium sized children, the first week back to school marks the passage of time more profoundly than birthdays or New Year’s.   Everyone is a year older at the end of August, walking down the driveway pressed and polished, backpacks squarely on their shoulders.  The summer air has made them taller and I am nostalgic, missing tiny fingers and toes.  So I, more even than they, am glad when this first week is over, and we are headed to a pizza/swimming end-of-summer party.  The weather is hot and I wander through the market, wondering what to bring.  Looking at the tomatoes and red bell peppers, resplendent and grand, I remember this breathtaking Panzanella Recipe.  Not only is this a perfect salad to pair with pizza, it is such showcase for the vegetables coming in from the fields now.

Panzanella is an Italian tomato and bread salad—vegetables and good bread tossed with a gentle vinaigrette.  It also incorporates roasted red peppers, which you can totally make yourself.  In fact, if this blog motivates you to do nothing else, let it talk you into making roasted red peppers.  They are so much better than those you buy in the grocery store and take such little time and effort.

So, before Panzanella…Roasted Red Peppers.  The Panzanella will call for two, but I would make a few more, to toss on pizza or sandwiches, to pair with hummus or salads, or to use as burger toppers.  Wash however many you decide on and throw them, whole, on the grill, over medium high heat.  As the skin chars, turn them, so that they are evenly cooked all over and softened.  (They should still hold their shape, but you should be able to pierce them easily without any resistance, kind of like a really well done baked potato.)  Then, take them off of the grill and put each in a brown paper bag.  (The bags they put wine bottles in at the grocery to prevent clanging and banging? Perfect.) Roll up the tops and let sit for about 10 minutes.  Finally, remove the peppers and use a pairing knife to remove the charred skin (so easy and fun, you’ll be surprised).  Cut into strips.  Voila!  Roasted Red Peppers!

Now, back to the Panzanella Recipe.  First, the vegetable mixture.  Chop the following and put in a BIG bowl:

3 large tomatoes (I use a combination of red and yellow)
2 roasted red peppers
½ of a red onion (I slice these pretty thin)
1 cucumber (we don’t have these in the market anymore, so you’ll need to pick one up at the grocery store.)
1 cup of Kalmata olives (optional—and no need to chop)
1 pound FRESH mozzarella, cubed
About 20 large fresh basil leaves

Mix everything together (It will be so pretty) and dress with this vinaigrette:

¼ c. good extra virgin olive oil
3 T. red wine vinegar
1 t. honey (We DO have delicious local honey on our shelves.)
2 cloves garlic, pressed (and we have garlic…)
Salt and pepper, to taste

And, finally, pull out:

1 loaf of bread

The vegetable mixture can sit while you prepare the bread.  I include less bread than might be considered traditional and more vegetables, per our August ideology.  While I bought a loaf of multigrain from the bakery, any kind of good bread would be wonderful.  This recipe originated as a solution to stale loaves, so don’t feel like you need to make a special trip.

Anyway, all you have to do is cube the bread, drizzle it with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and toast it on the grill over medium low heat.  Don’t burn it, but do crisp it up nicely.  Then, put it on a tray to cool.

Mix the bread into the vegetables right before serving.  (If I take this Panzanella Recipe, to, say, a Labor Day Party, I bring the bread in a separate container and combine it on location.)

Enjoy this recipe, your picnics, your friends, and your family.  And Happy New (School) Year…

See You at the Market.