Panzanella Salad with Smoked Mozzarella: Summer's Bounty Personified

Friday, August 31, 2012

This salad is everything about summer: super bright and vibrant colors, bold flavors, satisfying without sitting heavy, and extremely refreshing. Panzanella is basically a bread salad -- crusty day-old bread is cubed and mixed with ripe and juicy tomatoes, often tossed with other chopped vegetables like onions, cucumbers, and then flavored simply with fresh herbs like basil or parsley. Cheese is included or not -- up to you -- and the salad is made in advance so the dry bread can soak up the juices and reconstitute into spongy goodness. This is a perfect salad for a light lunch or dinner, perfect for summer BBQs or parties as you can make it well in advance, or a perfect side for a grilled steak or chicken. I love using heirloom tomatoes for this dish for their color, but any juicey tomato will do you just fine!

Sometmes I'll add bacon to my panzenella, somtimes I'll add cheese. This time I did sort of both -- adding smoked mozzarella. It was outstanding. The smoky flavor of the mozzarella hints of bacon while the cheese adds creamy texture to the salad. You will adore this salad. Goes perfectly with a grilled strip steak.

Panzanella Salad with Smoked Mozzarella
3 cups day old crusty bread like French or Italian (chiabatta works lovely)
1 lb heirloom tomatoes -- various colors and sizes
1 small red onion
1/2 cup smoked mozzarella, cut into bite-sized cubes
1/4 cup fresh basil, leaves torn by hand
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
good quality olive oil

Add the bread into a large mixing bowl. Take the tomatoes and roughly cut them into large cubes or slices -- it doesn't need to be perfect and uniform. In fact, the more rustic looking the better! Peel and dice the onion into bite-sized pieces (larger dice) then add it to the bread with the tomatoes. Add the cheese and basil, salt and pepper to your taste, then drizzle olive oil enough to moisten the salad. Depending on how juicey the tomatoes are, you may need to add more or less of the oil. For a pound of juicey and ripe tomatoes, plan to use around 1/8 cup of oil. Toss with a spoon to evenly coat, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours for bread to moisten. Toss again before serving.

Can be made up to a day in advance.

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