Whip Smart Kitchen

Recipes, methods & musings for the whip-smart home cook

Summer Party Panzanella

Dinner, Italian, Party, Recipe, Salad, Slow Food, Summer, VegetarianLeannda CavalierComment

This Italian bread salad boasts the best summer garden bounties and toasted bread cubes, all tossed in a tangy white wine vinaigrette. It’s big enough to bring to your block party—and keeps well enough to keep all to yourself. 

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Ready to party but less ready to read? Click here to jump straight to the recipe. 

Is there any better feeling than walking out to the garden on a sunny day, picking a juicy cucumber, rinsing it off, and eating it right then and there like an apple? Adding a sprinkle of salt and a splash of vinegar might enhance things a bit, but otherwise, probably not.

Growing up in Wellsburg, West Virginia it seemed like every other house had a garden, or at least a vegetable patch. Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and more abound. Though my Pop-Pop’s garden was huge and we had some tomatoes and peppers sprouting at my house most years, neighbors would still bring over grocery bags full of their extra bounty all summer.

This is what July tastes like. 

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I could walk outside, grab a cucumber, rinse it off and eat it like an apple—and never run out as long as it was warm! I thought I fully appreciated it then, but now that I have a shady yard hundreds of miles away, I’m really missing the abondanza.

Whether you have a plentiful garden, a bustling farmers' market, or even a decent grocery store, sometimes you just end up staring at all those beautiful veggies thinking, "okay, but what am I actually going to do with all of this?!"

Enter panzanella.

What is panzanella?

Um, just the manifestation of summertime joy and happiness. With bread.

What is it really? A bread salad filled with all your favorite summer produce. I think everyone makes it a little differently, but I like a good mix of tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, red onion and basil. 

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Add a deliciously tangy white wine vinaigrette for good measure and you're golden. Well, golden and all the other colors that taste good. 

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This summer party panzanella lives up to its name. Panzanella in general is great for cookouts because it can safely sit out at room temperature, plus it's best after sitting for a while. Primo vegetarian option, but no one is skipping this dish just because it's not barbecue. 

This specific panzanella recipe has another advantage: the bread is toasted in the oven rather than pan-fried. I do realize both stovetops and ovens are hot (especially in the middle of summer), but the oven method is so much faster, less messy and less greasy-feeling. It’s also a little easier to evenly cook the bread this way.

Hold up, is the bread cooked in authentic panzanella?

Classic panzanella, as it's made in Italy, features stale bread soaked in vinaigrette and tomato juice in yet another example of what I love about Tuscan cooking—finding a way to use what's around and still managing to make it irresistible.

Somehow over the years, especially in American versions, it's evolved a bit to the point where we're grilling, frying or toasting the bread to dry it out enough to really soak up the vinaigrette. I'm gonna be honest. I REALLY like it that way. The texture. The flavor of the slightly browned bread. The crisp from the hot olive oil. Everything about it. 

How do you toast bread for panzanella? Simple. Just toss it in a little olive oil and salt...

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Toast it in the oven until it's just turning golden-brown, turn the oven off, and leave it for a few minutes to dry off.

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That's. It. 

Another difference from panzanella purist recipes? The OG dish is typically made with bread, tomatoes, onions, vinaigrette, maybe basil, and that's it. Sounds delicious, but I have all this amazing produce laying around and it all tastes SO good together. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again. There's a time and a place for making food perfectly authentic, and I'm all about knowing the rules, but you're missing out on some incredible food if you're not willing to be a rule-breaker sometimes. 

HOWEVER, there is one unbreakable rule here. 

This recipe is great for bread that's a day or two old and starting to get a little stale, but for just about everything else it's all about freshness. That goes for all the vegetables down to using garlic you cut yourself—not the jarred stuff. This is a true peak of summer recipe. If you’re not eating all your ingredients as fresh (and ripe) as possible, don’t make this.

You’ll thank me when you take a bite.

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I like to make this with red and orange bell peppers (orange are my favorite to eat raw), but yellow is great too. Green peppers are a little too grassy for me in this particular recipe, but hey, try it out if you have some on hand you want to use up. Let me know how it goes!

I’ve made summer party panzanella for a bridal shower, for dinner parties, for hungry football players who helped us move, and plenty of times on regular old weeknights. My husband and I have been known to destroy one of these in 24 hours—yeah, that’s an entire loaf of bread for two. Yikes. Such a good yikes. 

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As it sits, the vinaigrette and the juices from all those veggies meld and soak into the bread for such explosive flavor that you don't even need fireworks, okay? Leave the pyrotechnics to the professionals, because you can blow minds all on your own with this. 

Some people will beg you for this recipe. Everyone else will just ask you to make more. 

Luckily for me, we do travel to the land of veggie-sharing (aka West Virginia) pretty often during the summer. I'm actually surrounded by fresh tomatoes and basil at this very moment, some of which I just ate in a frittata. We also live fairly close to some great farmers markets and the famous Grainger County tomatoes in Tennessee, so I’m not completely missing out.

Still, if you live in a community like the one I grew up in, know I’m jealous. Go out and pick the biggest, most misshapen, sun-ripened tomato you can find and slice it up with some salt for me!

So what's the produce situation in your area, and what's your fave summer vegetable or fruit? A super-ripe peach or plum might be runners-up to tomatoes and cucumbers for me. Basil and mint are great too though... Oh God, I almost forgot watermelon! For the record, that was an actual, unedited stream of consciousness.

Anyway, freshen up the comments below with your picks!

If you try out this summer party panzanella, let me know by sharing a photo with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen and tagging me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. You can also use the "tried it" feature on Pinterest to help others find it too!

Let's get toasting!

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