I paired this salad with deviled cod on winter greens with a redux of tomato panzanella salad. For those who know me, I could not bring myself to a wilted base of escarole and kale. I purchased both and threw them away and opted for baby spinach—much better! An Albariño wine accompanied the meal.
5 oz or ½ loaf of a rustic Italian bread (I used Ciabatta) cut into 1-inch cubes
Extra virgin olive oil
2 ¼ lb ripe tomatoes I used vine ripe tomatoes, cut into small wedges or cubes
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves minced
½ tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp fresh thyme optional
2 small shallots peeled and thinly sliced
½ cup packed fresh basil torn
4 oz fresh baby mozzarella optional (more to your liking)
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, combine bread cubes with large drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a generous pinch of kosher salt. Toss to make sure the bread is well coated (save the bowl for later use). Spread the bread cubes on a sheet pan and bake in heated oven for about 10 minutes or until golden (the edges should get crisp, while the bread gains some color and crisp but remains still a bit chewy). Place a large colander over the same mixing bowl. Place the tomatoes in the colander and sprinkle with kosher salt. Toss briefly with your hand. Set aside for a few minutes to allow the tomatoes to release their juices in the mixing bowl.
When ready, move the colander with the tomatoes to the sink for now, and use the mixing bowl with the tomato juice to make the dressing. Add red wine, ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, garlic cloves, Dijon mustard, thyme, and a large pinch of black pepper. Whisk to combine.
Dressing for panzanella salad
Add the tomatoes, bread cubes, shallots, basil and mozzarella (if using) to the mixing bowl and toss to coat with the dressing. Allow the salad to sit for 20 to 30 minutes before serving. panzanella ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Give the salad a gentle toss and transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with a few more fresh basil leaves, if you like. panzanella salad on a serving platter
Dressing variation: You can pair down the dressing if you prefer something simpler. A bit of extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar is essential, the rest is up to you.
Cook's Tip: It helps to cut the bread into cubes ahead of time and leave it out to dry for a few hours. Still, do not skip toasting the bread in the oven for a few minutes, this makes a big difference in texture and helps keep the salad from getting too soggy.
What kind of tomatoes to use? Any kind of tomatoes will work in tomato panzanella. I used vine ripe tomatoes here, but I love using an assortment of colorful heirloom tomatoes when they're in season. If you use small cherry or grape tomatoes, be sure to still cut them in halves to be able to use their juice in the dressing.