Bread salad (panzanella), like French toast and croutons, is one of those delicious recipes invented by necessity: Poor people needed to get another meal from bread that had gone stale.
Panzanella (pon-za-NEL-ah) is a Tuscan-style bread salad made with a loaf of day-old (or older) Italian bread, cubed into large croutons and soaked in vinaigrette to soften it.
“Panzanella” translates to “bread in a swamp,” the swamp being the water or vinaigrette in which the bread is soaked.
Originally, people would go to their garden or forage in the field, bring in whatever vegetables they had and chop them to add to the bread cubes.
Cucumber, onion, tomato and often purslane, a salad green that grows wild, were common ingredients.
Early recipes were heavy on the onions, the cheapest ingredient to pair with the bread. When there wasn’t enough oil to spare, the bread was moistened in water.
Today, this peasant dish is a popular first course in Italy. It doesn’t appear often on menus of U.S.-based Italian restaurants. That’s too bad, because it’s a dish worth knowing.
So today’s tip is: Make a bread salad! It‘s a refreshing dish that takes just minutes to whip up.
While summer markets are have more bountiful produce choices, you can make panzanella with the basics—cucumbers, onions, carrots, celery, whatever you have on hand.
You can add ingredients beyond vegetables, as this recipe shows. It uses seasonal squash, mozzarella and lentils.
Want more beans? Add them to a panzanella of any kind.
RECIPE: AUTUMN PANZANELLA (BREAD SALAD)
Prep time for this recipe, which we adapted from Good Eggs is 30 minutes.
You can put this together in minutes if you have leftover squash and lentils or beans.
You can add more salad vegetables (cucumber, onion, cherry tomatoes, etc.). For a flavor lift, we also toss in whatever fresh herbs we have on hand; typically, basil, parsley or thyme.
Hard, two-day-old bread is fine; in fact, some consider it ideal.
Ingredients For 4 Servings
1. PREHEAT the oven to 375°F. Arrange the squash in a single layer on a baking sheet and toss with a bit of olive oil and a few pinches of salt. Bake until tender and golden brown on the bottom, about 15 to 20 minutes. (Important: Squash can look bright orange on top but burnt on the bottom, so be sure to check the underside with a spatula.)
2. COMBINE the lentils and water/stock in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover tightly, reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender, about 15-20 minutes. The lentils will double or triple in size.
3. HEAT the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add the sage leaves and fry until crisp, 2–3 seconds. Remove the leaves with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels; sprinkle with coarse salt.
4. TOSS the lentils in a small bowl with a splash of red wine vinegar, the garlic paste, a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch or two of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.
5. TOSS the bread with the lentils, sage and squash in a large bowl or on a platter. Let it sit for a few minutes while you dress the arugula in a separate bowl, with a splash or two of red wine vinegar and a pinch of salt.
6. GENTLY fold in the arugula. Top with the mozzarella and serve.
*Here are the different sizes of mozzarella balls.