Oh, summer. You are an expert wooer.
Just when I want to hate you, while I’m pushing up another hill on my bicycle, sweat dripping down my neck while I slap a bug off my face, you hit me with a gorgeous sunset over a field of wildflowers, the kind that makes me pull my massive camera out of my backpack, right there on the trail, while I literally gasp out loud.
You know just how to do it. Just after a crazy rainstorm, there’s a farmers market packed with produce. On a lazy Saturday afternoon at home, you have me roasting grape tomatoes from a local farm.
There are those who hate you, Summer, those who are immune to all your charms, who — very fairly — cite heat and humidity and insects and all that comes with those things, from big hair to incessant scratching of ankles.
And I listen to them, I do. But look, between you and me, none of this matters.
Because for me, it all comes down to this: There’s nothing better than your bounty of fruit and vegetables.
Not the creamy celeriac soup or the roasted roots of winter, or the thin asparagus spears of spring. I like those things, but man, I love your bounty in the warmer months, the way the food stalls overflow with colors and fresh, enticing smells on weekend mornings…
I love, for example, that your tomatoes taste so much better than January’s. I love the way they look, sliced, with juice dripping onto a plate.
And now I love them roasted, maybe more than any other way, when they are shriveled and darkened, crispy around the edges and bursting with juice when I take a bite.
Roasted tomatoes are good by themselves, great in omelets, and fantastic in a panzanella salads whipped up in the late afternoon while the grill is warming and friends are enjoying cocktails and each other’s company on the patio.
I made them this weekend, just before stepping outside, and Summer, let me tell you, this was excellent timing.
This panzanella is uncomplicated, just a compilation of what I had on hand. It starts with fresh grape tomatoes, sliced and roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
The tomatoes are combined with some greens (I used romaine), thick hunks of mozzarella, chopped basil, and diced pieces of thick toasted sourdough bread. Toss with olive oil and balsamic and allow it to sit for a minute, so the toasted bread can really soak in the tomato and dressing, and WOW.
One big bite of this panzanella is delicious, irresistible, fresh, and fragrant. In other words, it’s you, Summer, all you, and that is a very good thing indeed.Print
This is one of those recipes with a lot of popular variations, but the key is to improvise, adding more of what you like and less of what you don’t. Combined with the dressing and fresh vegetables, the bread is chewy and satisfying.
For the Salad:
- 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
- 2 big slices crusty sourdough bread
- 4 cups roughly chopped romaine lettuce
- 8 oz shredded or cubed mozzarella cheese
- 1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh basil
For the Dressing:
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Place tomatoes cut-side up on a rimmed baking sheet, lined with parchment paper or a nonstick silicone baking mat if you wish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until roasted and wrinkled.
- In the last 10 to 20 minutes of roasting the tomatoes, add both slices of bread to the oven on a small baking sheet. Bake until golden and toasted. Chop bread into cubes and set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the romaine, mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, bread cubes, and basil.
- In a small bowl, whisk together ingredients for the dressing. Drizzle dressing over the salad and toss to combine. Let sit for 10 minutes or so, allowing the dressing to soak into the bread.
- Serve immediately.
Cooking by the Numbers…
Step 1 – Prep and Measure Ingredients
Wash all of the produce well.
Halve the grape tomatoes. Chop the basil leaves.
Pat the romaine dry with paper towels or dry in a salad spinner, and roughly chop.
Measure the remaining ingredients. Set to the side in the order they are listed in the ingredient list.
Step 2 – Roast Tomatoes
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Place tomatoes on a rimmed baking sheet, cut-side up. Be sure to arrange them in an even layer without any overlap.
Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil. Sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper. Bake for up to 1 hour until the tomatoes are roasted well. They should be wrinkled and slightly bursting. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Step 3 – Toast Bread
Place the bread on a small baking sheet and toast in the oven until golden brown, for the last 10 to 20 minutes while the tomatoes finish roasting.
I you don’t have a bakery loaf, a sourdough baguette will also work in a pinch.
Remove from the oven and chop into bite-sized pieces. A serrated bread knife is perfect for this task.
Step 4 – Make Dressing
Add dressing ingredients to a small bowl.
Whisk well, until the balsamic vinegar is fully incorporated.
Step 5 – Assemble Salad
Place the chopped romaine, mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, bread cubes, and basil in a large bowl.
Toss briefly to combine.
Drizzle the dressing over the salad.
Toss to coat, and let rest for 10 minutes. This will allow the dressing and tomato juices to seep into the bread, creating the flavor and texture that this signature salad is known for.
Serve as a main dish for lunch, or an salad for the first course at dinner. It’s also perfect to bring on a picnic.
Improvisation Is Key to the Art of Panzanella
When it comes to a summer panzanella, the recipe doesn’t always have to be an exact guide. Everyone’s taste in salad varies greatly.
For example, you might like more tomato flavor in your panzanella. You can add more, or skip roasting them before tossing with the other ingredients.
Alternatively, you might want more crunchy bread, or you may even like more freshly cracked pepper, garlic, or anchovy paste in the made-from-scratch oil and vinegar dressing.
What I always recommend with salads like this one is to try the recipe as it’s written the first time, then make adjustments as you like with each successive attempt.
Taste each element as you go along, and have fun with making the salad your own.
Once you try the recipe, tell us your favorite way to assemble it below. Did you follow it to the letter, or make your own adjustments? Leave it a five-star rating if you loved it!
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Photos by Meghan Bassett, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on August 12th, 2010. Last updated: June 7, 2018 at 20:39 pm. With additional writing and editing by Meghan Bassett and Allison Sidhu.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her mantra? Restoring order and celebrating beauty through creative content, photography, and food. Shanna's work has been featured in Bon Appetit, The Kitchn, MSN.com, Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Houzz.com, Food News Journal, Food52, Zeit Magazine, Chew the World, Mom.me, Babble, Delish.com, Parade, Foodista, Entrepreneur and Ragan PR.