Monday, August 8, 2011

No-Cook Dinner: Panzanella Salad


Apparently I have been using the word scrounge incorrectly. There's no begging or mooching involved for me; I've been saying I could "scrounge something up" for dinner when I guess what I really meant was more along the lines of "rustle up some grub" or "throw something together." But you know the kind of cooking I mean, right? Not so much cooking as assembling, easy to put together meals that are perfect for hot summer nights. A couple of tomatoes, a cucumber and some bread: boom! Dinner.

My loaf of bread wasn't stale, so I made it into garlic croutons, but the idea is to use hard, neglected bread that softens up in the bowl with juicy tomatoes and olive oil. At its heart, panzanella is a way to use leftovers and what's ripe in the garden right this minute, but I scrounged rustled up chose to add olives for their briny bite and a splash of white wine vinegar for punch.

Panzanella Salad
serves 2 as a light dinner, probably 4 as a side

Olives aren't traditional in panzanella, but I had a few in the fridge so I I had some time, so I made and used garlic oil, but plain olive oil is traditional and equally delicious. 

1 stale loaf Italian or French bread, cubed or not-so-stale bread, cubed and toasted
3 medium tomatoes or a pint of cherry tomatoes or a combination
2 small cucumbers, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
small handful basil, (I used purple Thai basil) torn into bits
about a dozen good black olives, pitted and torn in half
salt and pepper
1/2 - 1 cup olive oil
1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

If you have the time or inclination to get a little fancy, make garlic oil: peel 5 or 6 cloves of garlic and put them in a small pot. Add a cup of olive oil (you'll only use about half of this in the salad, but who doesn't like having garlic oil around?). Put the pot over the lowest heat your stove can manage for 15 minutes or so. Some bubbles will form around the garlic and it may simmer but it should never boil or even come close to boiling. If it gets too bubbly, just shut it off and let it hang out. The longer it sits the more garlicky it gets, but you can use it as soon as it has cooled.

Toss the bread cubes with a couple tablespoons of garlic oil (or plain olive oil) and a big pinch of salt on a baking sheet and stick them in a 350 degree oven, tossing occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until the cubes are crunchy but still a little soft in the middle. Let cool.

Cut the big tomatoes into chunks and remove the seedy goo. Cherry tomatoes can be left whole. Put the tomatoes, cucumbers, olives,  and basil in a big bowl and season with a big pinch of salt and a few turns of the pepper grinder, toss to combine. Add the bread cubes on top and drizzle 1/4 - 1/2 a cup of olive oil and a tablespoon of white wine vinegar over the whole thing (make sure to get a little bit down the sides of the bowl). Toss well and let the salad sit for as long as you have, 20-30 minutes is plenty but you can leave it for a few hours if you want. Don't put it in the fridge though, or the tomatoes will get mushy. Just before serving, toss again and taste it, add more oil or vinegar or salt or pepper if you think it needs it.


  1. Love the bright colors and dressing-soaked bread.

  2. Uh oh. I may have to make this for dinner tonight. I even have all the ingredients--but my bread isn't actually stale yet! NOOOOO

  3. Look excellent!! I forwarded this on to my mom. Their stove is broken after lightening hit the house and blew some fuses to key things (sigh, monsoons), so she'll appreciate the no-cook element of this meal!!

  4. One of my favorite salads. And scrounge, I use it all the time, no begging involved. I'm okay with that. And yes to olives - I always think of this salad as a leftovers free for all. I put a lot more in than just tomatoes! Yum.