I have a confession to make: I didn’t like tomatoes until just a few years ago. I didn’t like tomato sauce either except when on pizza and only if it was minimal and certainly not that chunky style. I’m not sure how to explain this but suffice it to say, I was missing out on some great food. The turn around happened after I tried some heirloom tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and basil drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, a classic dish. It’s like a bright light went off in my head and I could imagine all the possibilities of cooking with tomatoes.
Move forward in time and now my absolute favorite summer meal is the Panzanella salad, simply bread and tomatoes. It’s taken me a few summers to perfect making it. At first, I kept wanting to add more vegetables. Now it’s simply shallots, cucumber, tomatoes, fresh basil, feta cheese and homemade croutons dressed with a easy red wine vinaigrette. Behold!
As long as there are heirloom tomatoes available, I make this as often as possible. I think making the croutons gives it an extra deliciousness. I simply cut up some bread, toss with olive oil, salt, and dried herbs. Then bake it at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. Voila! They taste good enough to eat like crackers. Here’s a close up so you can see what’s going on in there.
I think that our recipe is not properly a panzanella, although it is delicious. According to the purists, panzanella shouldn’t have cucumber or cheese in it, and definitely not feta, which isn’t even Italian.
I just finished eating the last of my first attempt at panzanella, so I had to chuckle when I saw your post. Personally, my interpretation of this salad is that it evolved from a desire to use up leftovers, so I think you can put into it whatever you like, as long as it has the fundamental ingredients of bread and tomatoes. It’s fun to experiment with the ingredients you might have on hand, testing variations until you come up with the perfect combination of taste and available vegetables. It is so emblematic of summer.