This panzanella is the best salad I’ve ever made. I know it sounds like I’m exaggerating but I’m not.
To me, the best salad is one that makes you forget that you’re eating salad. This panzanella accomplishes that. Sweet, colorful heirloom tomatoes, tart red onion, crunchy cucumbers, fragrant basil, and garlicky pieces of toasted bread come together in one bowl. I’m getting emotional just writing about it.
I was going to make the salad using a recipe but then at the last minute, I improvised. I don’t think salads should be too preplanned anyway.
One important thing that I did different than most panzanella recipes was use focaccia bread. A lot of recipes call for using stale French bread but I found some delicious garlic focaccia at the farmers’ market last weekend.
Granted, stale bread probably makes a better crouton. But the bread I used still came out of the oven crunchy. It had more flavor than regular bread, too, because it was originally baked with garlic.
Another key aspect to this recipe is getting good ingredients. I say this all the time but if vegetables are center stage in a dish, they need to shine. Fresh tomatoes, cucumber, and red onion will take this recipe from “meh” to amazing.
I ate half the salad in one sitting and saved the rest for lunch the next day. As it turns out, it’s even better on day two. I’m not sure how or why, because usually cooked bread that sits in the fridge overnight is kind of gross the next day. But I’m not questioning it.
In other news, I’m amped because this week I only have to work three days. On Friday I’m headed to the Blue Ridge/Smoky Mountains with my friend Lyndsey. We’re going to watch the solar eclipse, eat and drink everything, and hike. I’m looking forward to having a few days off.
Yesterday on my day off I went to the Shaw Nature Reserve. I’d highly recommend it if you’re in the St. Louis area and you want to see beautiful flowers and scenery.
Here’s a song that I’ve been jamming out to the last few days. It doesn’t really have anything to do with panzanella or Shaw but it’s still pretty amazing. It’s featured on a Spotify playlist I’m curating called “Août.” In French, that means August.
Heirloom Tomato Panzanella
3 medium to large heirloom tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 loaf of focaccia (or French) bread, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp flaky sea salt
1/2 cup basil leaves, torn
1/2 red onion, sliced thin
1 small cucumber, sliced thin
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
flaky sea salt and ground black pepper for sprinkling
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Toss the bread slices with 3 Tbsp of olive oil and 1/2 tsp flaky sea salt. Spread in an even layer on the baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy. Remove from the oven and allow the sheet to cool on a wire rack.
In the meantime, assemble the rest of the salad. Place the tomatoes, basil leaves, red onion, and cucumber in a bowl and toss with red wine vinegar and olive oil. Once the bread cubes are cool, add them to the salad and toss to combine. Garnish with some flaky sea salt and ground black pepper. Enjoy!
(Leftovers stay good for one day, covered, in the refrigerator).