Panzanella is a bread salad. Say what? Yes, just like a taco salad, panzanella replaces the healthiest foundation of the salad (i.e. lettuce) with something distinctly anti-Atkins. In its basest form, it is large chunks of bread and tomatoes tossed in a vinegar and olive oil dressing. Originally from Tuscany, it made use of day-old bread, and sometimes included onions and basil (thanks Wikipedia). Like pizza before it, American chefs have whisked the panzanella from its Italian home and morphed it into a delicious chimera.
After scouring the internet for inspiration, I’ve learned that panzanella is like Cher’s closet in Clueless: endless choices and endless combinations. As long as the main component is croutons, it seems like you can add practically anything you want and call it a “panzanella.” By staying seasonal, you can enjoy this salad all year round. Indeed, last spring I made one with asparagus, radishes, and medium-boiled eggs. The summer would be the perfect time to try out a true-to-Italy concoction, utilizing fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and mozzarella. Now that it’s autumn – and you’re all fully aware of how much I love autumn produce – I decided to make one “harvest-style” for dinner.
Below is the recipe for my fall panzanella. It was influenced by the New York City restaurant Brucie’s contribution to the food blog Nona Brooklyn. I made several of my own changes (don’t sue me, Brucie) and I served it with some crumbled goat cheese on top. My husband’s bowl also had some cubes of ham on top because to him a meal without meat is a meal ruined. I think it tastes best lukewarm, and would make an excellent addition to your Thanksgiving menu.
Yield: 6 servings
1 loaf whole grain bakery bread, cubed into bite-sized pieces
2 cups Brussels sprouts, stems removed and halved
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed into bite-sized pieces
1 cup spinach, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup roasted chestnuts, chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
1 cup olive oil, divided in half
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt
Pepper to taste
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup apple cider
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup honey
2 tsp. garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. salt, or to taste
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Toss Brussels sprout halves and butternut squash cubes with 1/2 cup olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. Spread veggies in single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with chopped thyme and bake for 25 minutes, stirring once. Remove and place into a large salad bowl for later mixing.
Toss cubed bread with remaining 1/2 cup olive oil. Spread out on a sheet pan and toast for no longer than 10 minutes. They should be crispy on the outside, but still slightly soft inside. Set aside to cool slightly.
In the salad bowl with the roasted vegetables, add the cranberries, chestnuts, and spinach. Add the croutons and mix all ingredients evenly. Combine all dressing ingredients, whisking well, and pour over the salad. Toss again and let it marinate for about 10 minutes. Serve topped with crumbled goat cheese.