A classic summer salad, this panzanella with mozzarella and herbs features perfectly ripe summer tomatoes, and a punchy garlic and anchovy vinaigrette.
September feels like a whole new thing this year. We’re getting ready for both girls to have full-day online schooling, leaving me at once deeply stressed out and vaguely excited for something new. I’m extremely averse to routine and schedules of any kind, but hold out hope that I can change my ways. I have visions of efficient family breakfasts and pre-packed picnic lunches to make the most of the kids’ lunch hour.
And while I may be ready for some of these seasonal shifts, I find myself clinging to summer too. My river sandals, the backyard tomatoes (dwindling, but still robust), and all these slow days spent, for better and worse, together as a family.
There will be plenty of time for fall produce, but I will always be on team tomato until the very end.
(Mostly) Classic Panzanella
If I’d thought about it for long, I’d have realized that a soggy bread salad might be a hard sell. Regular salads are challenging enough. But even in a world driven primarily by visuals, I’m glad to be sharing this bright, lovely, perfect-for-the-end-of-summer panzanella.
It starts with toasted cubed sourdough bread, soaked in the juices of shredded tomatoes. This step ensures that the liquid the bread absorbs is intensely flavored and amplifies the acidic brightness that makes a real deal summer tomato worth the wait.
Besides perfect summer tomatoes, a garlic and anchovy vinaigrette anchors the salad’s flavors. Anchovies lend briny umami undertones, and a generous pour of olive oil – delicate and fruity – ensures the flavors linger.
Once the bread and tomatoes have mingled, there’s room for improvisation. I like to add seeded, peeled cucumbers, paper thin slices of red onion, and handfuls of basil and parsley. Rather than adding sea salt to the whole salad, I salted and dressed each ingredient ahead of time. This makes for less tossing as the salad comes together and helps to keep the delicate tomato-soaked bread in one piece. Finally, it all gets drizzled with more vinaigrette, a pinch of sea salt, and maybe a little more olive oil.
I also added a handful of quartered Ciliegine mozzarella (the little ovals), which is not strictly traditional, but tastes very good. If you are a purist or just don’t have it, it’s fine to leave the mozzarella out.
- 3 - 4 big slices (3 ounces) ciabatta or sourdough (stale or fresh), cut into 1-inch cubes – enough to make 4 cups
- 1 ½ pounds tomatoes
- Sea salt
- 1 large cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded and sliced ¼-inch thick
- ½ a medium red onion, sliced paper thin
- ½ cup chopped basil and parsley leaves
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- ½ cup Ciliegine or fresh mozzarella of choice, quartered or sliced
- 4 anchovies in oil, minced
- 1 - 2 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, and mined
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ¼ - ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
Heat the oven to 300 degrees F. Spread the cubed bread out on a rimmed baking sheet. Toasted until bread is crisp and fragrant, 20 - 30 minutes, depending on the staleness of the bread you're using.
Place toasted bread, plus any crumbs from the baking sheet in a large mixing bowl. Grate a third of your tomato stash over the bread. The tomato flesh will easily give way, leaving just the peel in your hand. Discard the peel. Toss bread and tomato mixture with a generous pinch of sea salt and set aside for 15 minutes.
To make the vinaigrette, mash the anchovies and garlic into a paste. Add a pinch of sea salt, the vinegar, and the Dijon. After 5 minutes, slowly whisk in the olive oil. Taste and add sea salt as needed.
Chop the remaining tomatoes and toss with the soaking bread (and maybe another pinch of sea salt). Place the cukes and onions in their own little bowls and toss with a sprinkle of sea salt and a teaspoon of vinaigrette.
When ready to assemble, gently fold the vegetables in with the tomato-soaked bread. Toss everything with a generous drizzle of vinaigrette. Add the herbs, black pepper, and mozzarella, if using. Taste and add more sea salt and a big drizzle of olive oil to taste. Serve right away.
Leftover salad will keep surprisingly well in the fridge overnight, but the flavors are best day-of.