Italian Panzanella (Bread Salad)

 Several years ago, my friend Cheri took a trip to Italy, which included a cooking class in Tuscany.  Her photographs of the trek were so beautiful, and the one that stood out to me was the villa where she cooked with a chef.    They made Panzanella salad.   I have been dying to try this salad ever since, but I've never gotten around to it until today.    I had no idea how to make it, I just went from Cheri's photo, and added vegetables I know my family will eat.  This is what I came up with.    I served it with a cup of tomato soup on the side.   Everyone loved it -- five stars.

5 mild or sweet Italian sausages, grilled and cut into 1-inch slices on the diagonal
1 pound loaf Italian bread (I used a rosemary olive oil artisan bread I bought at the grocery store.)
4 Italian plum tomatos, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 summer zuchinni squash, chopped into bit-sized cubes (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup red onion, chopped fine
1 bunch (about 1/2 cup) fresh basil, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (see note at the bottom)
1 clove garlic, minced fine
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper.

About 2 hours before you want to serve the salad, marinate the vegetables in the dressing:
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, garlic, sugar, mustard, and the balsamic vinegar.
In another medium sized bowl, place the tomatos, and squash, add the dressing.
Season with the salt and pepper.
Toss to combine.

When  ready to serve:
Cut the bread into bite-size pieces.
Scatter evenly on a baking sheet and place in a 350 oven.
Bake until lightly toasted, like a crouton.  It takes about 15 minutes.
Chop the basil into small pieces.
In a large salad bowl, add the bread, sausage, marinated vegetables, parmesan, squash, onion, basil, and thyme.
Toss to combine.

Serves 4 to 6.

Tip:  You don't want to include the stems when you use fresh Thyme in a salad.   Pinch each stem between your thumb and forefinger running them down the stem to release the little leaves.

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