A few years ago, my friend served me panzanella for the first time. How could I not have known this existed? How could I not want to eat a "salad" made of bread that tastes like delicious tomato bruschetta and crostini?
Panzanella is super simple and so delicious. In essence, you make tomato bruschetta and rather than slathering it on top of toast, you toss it in a giant bowl with homemade croutons.
Panzanella is also a great pantry buster. You can add anything into it. Replace your tomatos with a mixture of roasted zucchinis or mushrooms. Chuck in some pancetta or bacon. Use olive tapenade instead. Add in some fresh mozzarella. Basically, whatever you would want to eat on top of toasted bread, throw in!
I have made panzanella for quite a few gatherings but this time, as a side for Sam's bacon-wrapped birthday party [I was looking for excuses to use up my year's supply of bacon], I think I perfected it.
My only contention with panzanella is that it can get mushy. In the past I have chopped up a bunch of tomatoes and mixed them with fresh basil and garlic and tossed them with the bread. The tomatoes contain a lot of liquid and so the "salad" albeit delicious, can get pretty mushy, pretty quickly.
Enter my beloved oven dried tomatoes [http://sauceonthewall.blogspot.com/2012/04/oven-dried-tomatoes-veggie-sandwiches.html]! Uggghh, these made it! The oven drying removed most of the excess liquid and amplified the tomato flavor! To die for!
Before we begin, know that you can absolutely still use fresh tomatoes in your panzanella if you don't feel like taking a couple hours to oven dry tomatoes. It is still delicious!
Oven Dried Tomato Panzanella
1 pan of oven dried tomatoes, approximately 8 tomatoes
*For the panzanella, I cut my roma tomatoes into eighths rather than quarters to better fit into the salad
1 loaf of crusty bread
3 T olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 T balsamic vinegar
1 large handful of basil, chopped
1 T chopped fresh oregano or 1 t dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350. Slice the loaf of bread into approximately 1 inch cubes. Toss the bread with 2 T of olive oil and spread over a baking sheet. Bake until cubes have toasted slightly, approximately 15-20 minutes.
*Since I was oven drying my tomatoes anyway at 300 degrees, I added my bread cubes to the oven for the last 30 minutes of the tomatoes cooking time.
Once your tomatoes have roasted, toss them with your basil, garlic, tablespoon of olive oil, vinegar, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir to combine and let sit and marinate for a little bit, a half hour is fine.
Once your tomato bruschetta flavors have melded, toss in your delicious toasted bread until the bread looks evenly coated by the bruschetta mixture.
*I got caught up in birthday party planning and forgot to take a picture of the final product, but, believe me, it is sooo good!