Need a Salad for the Weekend? Try Easy Panzanella, an Italian-Style Bread Salad
I really like this recipe because it's easy. No, it's not authentic. It is good, and it uses shortcuts that mean you don't have to spend all your weekend time in the kitchen. Maybe you'd like to be with guests (if you and they are vaccinated), or maybe you just want to chill out and read a good book in peace (well, if you don't have cicadas doing their thing or kids who insist something is broken, bleeding, or on fire). Really. A faster, easier Panzanella is a good thing. Yes, most of the vegetables are there, but, instead of using toasted Italian or French bread or stale bread soaked in water and squeezed dry, I simply open a giant bag of croutons from Costco and dump some of those croutons in my salad. Yes, it's cheating, and yes, the result is quite good as well as easy. The croutons soak up the vinaigrette as well as adding their own flavor to the salad.
Originally, Panzanella consisted primarily of onions, but the salad has, over time, changed to include mostly tomatoes. My version does include plenty of tomatoes, but it also has an ample amount of other summer vegetables. Cucumbers, onions, and sweet peppers also feature prominently. Because the salad must be eaten immediately if lettuce and basil are included, I leave out them out. When dinner time comes, I put lettuce on plates (or in a big bowl) and top the lettuce with the Panzanella. The lettuce doesn't get soggy, and any leftover Panzanella will keep for several days in the refrigerator. In fact, the flavor of the salad improves as the vegetables marinate in the vinaigrette. Yes, the croutons will be soggy, but they're quite good that way. So enjoy the shortcut and be happy. The food police don't need to know.
Easier Panzanella: Italian Bread Salad -- Serves 4 +
1/3 cup of red wine vinegar
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons of grainy Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon of lemon pepper
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon of onion powder
2 pints of small tomatoes, preferably of mixed types and colors, halved
1 large seedless cucumber, peeled and chopped
3-4 green onions, washed, trimmed, and chopped
1/2 cup of chopped sweet bell pepper, preferably red, yellow, orange, or a
2 cups of seasoned croutons
1/4 cup of crumbled feta cheese
Chopped romaine or torn salad greens
In a large bowl, whisk together well the vinegar, olive oil, mustard, lemon pepper, salt, and garlic and onion powders. Add the tomatoes, cucumber, green onions, and bell pepper and mix everything well. Add the croutons and feta cheese and toss everything to combine the vegetables, croutons, and cheese. Let the salad sit for 10-15 minutes and toss it again before serving it atop lettuce or "as is."