I’ve never been a big fan of panzanella salad. I love the flavors in the dish, but stale, soggy bread just isn’t something I crave. The sogginess is understandable, as this dish was invented as a way to ingest rock-hard bread, but now that we’re just making it for fun, and not to avoid starvation, we can tweak a few things for texture’s sake.
The key is frying the bread cubes in loads of olive oil, in a skillet, which obviously makes them crispy, but the healthful fat also soaks in and renders them semi-waterproof, or should I say dressing-proof. The same goes for the dusting of Parmesan we apply halfway through.
You may be tempted to save some work and bake them in the oven, but don’t. By using the pan, you get nice, crispy surfaces, but the very center of the crouton stays just a touch chewy. The oven tends to dry the bread out, and you don’t get the same texture.
The gorgeous pool of tomato juices, oil, and wine vinegar will still soak in, and soften the bread, but you’ll still get a little crunch in each bite. For me this makes all the difference in the world. I know adding things like peppers, onions, and cucumbers is quite common, but I think they simply get in the way.
Having said that, it’s your “little swamp,” which is what “Panzanella” translates to, so throw in what you like. Speaking of which, I’m not giving ingredient amounts. I’ll give a ratio, and maybe a recommendation or two, but this isn’t the kind of recipe where you should be washing measuring cups and spoons. Taste and adust, and as always, enjoy!
(I like equal parts bread cubes to tomato salad)
For the bread:
stale bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, soaked well with olive oil
enough finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano to cover bread
— fry until crispy and browned
cherry tomatoes, halved
pinch of sugara little minced garlic
equal parts red wine vinegar and olive oil, to dress generously (add enough to create a very “swampy” mixture)
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