I was first introduced to panzanella by one of my college housemates, who had this recipe written out on a piece of paper simply headed “what to do with old bread.” As the title suggests, this is a great way to use up slightly stale or dried out bread, or just to squeeze more bread into your diet — something I’m sure loads of you are desperately trying to do!As long-time readers of this blog know, I have a serious thing about food waste. To say I abhor it doesn’t even scratch the surface. I’ve done enough dumpster-diving and trash-picking in my life to speak on the subject with some authority, and if you don’t already know, bread is one of the easiest commodities to get your hands on in garbage receptacles across the United States. Nearly every grocery store, cafe, and bakery across the U.S. throws out loaves of bread every single day, and many of them throw out several garbage bags’ worth. I’ve been waist-deep in perfectly edible sandwich bread more times than I can remember, and although I eat plenty of it, I never buy bread.
For now, I’ll spare you Marxist ranting about why exactly so much food ends up in the garbage and statistics about the starving populations that could be fed entirely on America’s waste. While I can’t keep every loaf of bread from ending up in a landfill — and trust me, I’ve given it some hard thought! — I do want to encourage you to be a little creative before you decide food belongs in your trash can. (And that goes for all food, not just bread.)
On that front, this salad is an awesome trick to have up your sleeve, because it’s truly best made with bread that’s a little past its peak.* A once sad loaf of bread is transformed into toasted croutons, tossed with an array of summer veggies, and marinated in a tangy vinaigrette. It’s great for feeding a crowd and tastes better the longer it sits.
- 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 slightly stale baguette or boule, cut into 1″ cubes (~6 c)
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1″ cubes
- 1 cucumber, seeded and sliced into ½” half-moons
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped into 1″ pieces
- 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped into 1″ pieces
- ½ red onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 20 large basil leaves, chiffonaded
- 3 Tbsp capers, optional
- ½ c olive oil
- 3 Tbsp champagne vinegar
- 1 tsp finely minced garlic
- ½ tsp Dijon mustard
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-low heat.
- Add the bread and salt and toast until nicely browned on all sides, about 10 minutes, tossing frequently. Add more oil as needed.
- For the vinaigrette, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, garlic, mustard, salt, and pepper.
- In a large bowl, toss together the tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, red onion, basil, and capers, if using.
- Add bread cubes and vinaigrette and toss well.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Allow the salad to sit for at least half an hour before serving to allow flavors to meld.
*If your bread’s as hard as a rock, try turning it into bread crumbs or croutons!