What is your favorite part of the day?
For me it can vary, but dinner is usually involved somehow. A meal seems so inconsequential, but to create a dish and turn it into a social occasion—there’s nothing better this time of year. I feel summer meals should be fresh & light (but not light on flavor). It’s warm out, so this is where I lean on certain ingredients, so I spend less time in the kitchen. I find myself using an abundance of fresh garlic and herbs—like basil—which are aromatic, piquant, and ready to use, as-is. Then you can spend less time next to the fan—baking, roasting, braising, stewing, or whatever else it is you like to do! A recent hot evening & fresh loaf of sourdough, inspired me to create a rustic, skillet-grilled Panzanella Salad, loaded with heirloom tomatoes, butter lettuce, cucumber, and a homemade, herb dressing you could almost drink! It’s zesty, healthy and I love everything about it. Did I mention we’re adding some pancetta?
Making an Italian panzanella is an open canvas (well, minus the obvious bread component). Some resemble a marinated salad with tomatoes and cucumbers, but for mine, I like to use butter lettuce, red onion, capers, alongside colorful vine-ripened tomatoes. The bread is skillet-grilled with a little garlic-infused EVOO and parmesan cheese—to add texture & weight—making this a meal. Pancetta, I add that just because it’s good. For the dressing we make a fresh herb vinaigrette with red wine vinegar, chives and basil—what’s not to love?
It’s good. I might have it tonight . . . again:
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- ½ cup EVOO (good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
- 2T dry white wine
- 1.5 tsp fresh chives, finely chopped
- 1.5 tsp fresh basil, finely chopped
- ⅛ tsp fresh lemon zest
- sea salt & black pepper, to taste
- fresh loaf sourdough bread, sliced thickly
- extra virgin olive oil, for basting bread (garlic-infused if possible)
- shredded parmesan cheese, for bread
- dried Italian seasoning, for bread
- fresh head of butter lettuce, leaves rinsed & air dried
- variety of red, yellow & green heirloom tomatoes (ripe), sliced & halved
- cucumber, peeled sliced and then halved
- red onion, thinly sliced
- capers (from jar), use to taste (~ ½ tsp)
- pancetta, sliced and chopped
- Combine all above dressing ingredients, with salt & pepper to taste, in a small glass jar or container you can shake.
- Dressing will naturally separate, so shake right before pouring.
- Chop pancetta slices into small pieces and crisp on a heated pan on the stove till brown.
- Drain crisped pancetta on paper towels and set aside.
- Baste thick slices of sourdough with garlic infused EVOO (or regular with a tsp of minced fresh garlic).
- Sprinkle top of bread with small amount of dried Italian herbs.
- Grill on both sides of skillet/grill pan, until bread is crisp and brown (adding shredded parm to the 2nd top side of bread for it to melt/make a crust.
- Cut grilled slices into large chunks.
- In individual serving bowels/plates, add a base of cleaned & dried butter lettuce leaves (torn), red onion, cucumber, grilled bread pieces, sliced tomatoes, capers, and some of the crisp pancetta.
- Top with generous amount of herb vinaigrette & little extra shaved/shredded parmesan if desired.
I didn’t include exact measurements for the salad portion (recipe above), since you can add as much of each component as you see fit! The capers add a saltiness, so they’re a nice touch, but I didn’t need many since our pancetta is salty also. The bread gets a good toast from the skillet, and absorbs the herb vinaigrette perfectly, so I was pretty liberal with the jar! If you don’t have pancetta handy, not to worry, regular bacon chopped & browned will do just fine, or you can omit entirely for a meatless dish. I was also planning to add artichoke hearts (canned and drained) to this, but realized I was out of stock. Next time, they’ll be in the mix.
This salad can stand alone as a meal, but a smaller portion alongside some pasta, or a protein would work well too. This sure looks and tastes the part, not to mention panzanella is just fun to say! I’ll be making this all summer long, while heirloom tomatoes are ripe and plentiful at farmer’s markets. I prefer to prepare smaller batches of the dressing, so I can use the freshest herbs each time and not have to store in the fridge. The good news is our dressing only takes a couple of minutes, but tastes way better than store bought!
Enjoy this for dinner outside, with some nice Italian wine. I think you’ll like how simple it is to make, and how simply delicious it all comes together!Pin It