Several years ago I was looking at a loaf of Ciabatta bread on my kitchen counter. The Ciabatta was about to go stale and we were in the heat of a Phoenix summer. Normally I use stale bread to dunk into soup, but with 110 degrees outside and I was not about to make a hot bowl of soup. As I was looking at the ciabatta the air conditioner was clicking on and then so did my memory. I recalled a salad I had a year or two prior that was delicious…Panzanella. It is a bread salad of sorts and it had a nice bright dressing to it. There was one problem; it had fresh tomatoes in it. Yes, I am Italian; and I cannot stand a fresh tomato. I never have. Call me weird, call me strange, but I really cannot stand the taste or texture of a fresh tomato. I love them cooked, but a bright red juicy tomato right off the vine can make me gag! Maybe this is why my husband and I hit it off so well, he shares my dislike for fresh tomatoes. Since this salad is primarily bread and tomatoes I had my work cut out for me. I wanted to make a version of this salad that we could enjoy.
I started to slice the Ciabatta into cubes for the salad when I remembered I had a jar of sundried tomatoes in my refrigerator. I started to think I was onto something. Grabbing the jar and a bunch of other veggies I whipped up the salad. When Brian came home and tried it he was sold. Ever since then when the weather gets warm he asks for it. He asked for it this week actually; with temperatures reaching the high 80’s here in Seattle…I can see why. But I have not made this salad since last summer and I could not for the life of me remember how I made it.
After three trips to the store I had all I needed for the salad. Can you believe I was ready to make the salad when I realized I had no bread, and then no red wine vinegar??? Just then I could hear Brian’s voice telling me to write my recipes down when I like them. I never would have thought that it would happen with a recipe as easy as this. Obviously I was wrong. So now I am writing it down so I will not have this problem again. Why I would forget one of the main ingredients? I have no idea, but I hope you can make this salad and love it as much as we do.
Panzanella Salad (feeds 4)
4 cups of ciabatta cubes
½ cup of sun dried tomatoes, sliced into strips
1 large cucumber; cut in ½, seeded, and sliced
¼ red onion, sliced thinly
1 ½ cups of fresh mozzarella, chopped into bite size pieces
1 tbsp of fresh thyme
1/3 cup of Red wine vinegar (plus more if needed)
2 tsp of Dijon mustard
2 tsp of orange zest
1 clove of garlic minced
Freshly ground black pepper
About 2 ½ - 3 cups of lettuce leaves, washed and chopped small (I prefer green or red leaf)
First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Toss your cubed ciabatta cubes with a bit of olive oil (enough to coat them lightly) and place them spaced apart on sheet pans. Sprinkle the coted cubes with a bit of sea salt and bake about 10 minutes keeping an eye on them. You may want to stir them half way through to be sure they evenly toast. You are looking for them to stay slightly chewy, and lightly golden. When done remove from the oven and let cool.
Next; in a medium bowl place your red wine vinegar, mustard, garlic, orange zest, thyme, sea salt and black pepper to taste. To this add about 1/3 cup of Olive oil. Whisk it all together until your dressing is emulsified and set aside.
Then; in a large bowl place your cucumber, red onion, fresh mozzarella, and sun dried tomatoes. Toss it all with your dressing and then to this add your toasted ciabatta. Toss it all together again and let it sit about 5 minutes. You are looking for all your ingredients to marinate and marry together. I always like to taste it at this point. Sometimes it needs a bit more acid (red wine vinegar); and possible more sea salt, and black pepper.
Finally; when ready to serve gently toss it all with your lettuce. Be sure that your lettuce gets coated with all of your marinated veggies and ciabatta. Divide it among your plates and enjoy.