Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sayounara to Summer Salads: Part 1 The Panzanella

The summertime beckons cooks, grill masters, and chefs alike to ensure a crisp, clean, delicious salad is part of any meal providing that oasis of coldness on a hot summer eve. While Fall has just begun turning over summer, it’s so hard to say goodbye to the sweet season of potato salads, slaws, fruit salads, macaroni salads, crab salads, and of course salad salads before we begin efforts of Fall cookery in apple pies, sweet potato soups, and stuffed squashes. To pay homage to our retreating summer days of haze and to give the culinary season a proper send-off, I’ve crafted a three-part series showcasing summer salads as the centerpieces of meals. Each meal will feature a salad of summer highlighting a summery style of salad or ingredient, a protein dish to match, and a pairing with an Antinori wine-a trifecta of seasonal celebrations.

Part 1 of our Sayounara to Summer Salads Series is a celebration of the tomato via a quirky,
lesser-known salad-The Panzanella. The main ingredient in a Panzanella salad is hardened, bread cubes. While the preparation of the bread cubes varies recipe to recipe from soaking them in water, to letting the bread naturally become stale, to coating and toasting the bread; the traditional accompaniments are as follows: a homemade vinaigrette, onions, tomatoes, and basil. My interpretation presented here does not stray fall at all from the path, but I added green tomatoes for a contrast in color, flavor, and texture. Plus, the green tomato is a true delicacy of the south and is often enjoyed in the summertime! For the bread, I chose the toasting method. I found the end result to be texturally ‘crunchewatyty’, which is very desirable, as well as very flavorful.

Panzanella Salad

  • 1 Tuscan Boule; 1-2” cube pieces
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 4 medium vine ripe tomatoes; cut into 1” cubes and/or wedges
  • 1 large green tomato; cut into 1” cubes and/or wedges
  • ½ sliced sweet onion; 2” long pieces
  • ½ cup Basil leaves; chiffon
  • ½ cup extra light olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup Pecorino Romano cheese
  • dash of lemon juice
  • sea salt
  • coarse black pepper
  • garlic powder


  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Cut bread up into cubes. Put cubes in a sealable mixing bowl. Drizzle 1/3 cup of olive oil over the bread cubes. Sprinkle sea salt, coarse black pepper, and garlic powder on top to season. Close the lid on the mixing bowl and mix the bread cubes around ensuing to cover each piece with oil and spices.
  • On a baking sheet covered in tin foil, spread out the bread cubes onto the baking sheet and toast to a light brown color on corners is achieved. About 10 minutes.

  • Chop onions, tomatoes, and basil and put in another large, sealable mixing bowl. Season the vegetables with more salt and pepper. Set aside.

  • In a small, deep bowl put the pecorino Romano cheese, ½ extra light olive oil, ¼ Balsamic Vinegar, and dash of lemon juice. Using a wire whisk, whisk the cheese vinaigrette together.
  • Take bread out and let pieces cool. About 5 minutes.
  • Put the toasted bread cubes on top of the vegetables in the large mixing bowl and spread the entire vinaigrette contents over the entire salad. Seal the lid on the large mixing bowl and mix the salad flipping and swirling the salad around inside the bowl.
  • Let the salad sit for 30 minutes before serving in the fridge. Take out the salad about 10 minutes before serving to bring it up just shy of room temperature.
And Voila! Panzanella Salad a la Rachel J.

Once I tasted the Panzanella salad with the Villa Antinori Bianco, I was pleasantly shocked by the ability of the wine’s fruity flavors to pull even more tomato flavor from the salad. Sweet and savory flavors of fruits were harmoniously singing on my palate. In fact, I mentally noted that I would love to try white sangria with this wine since it lends itself so generously to the sensibilities of fruit. This wine is the perfect pair to the tomato-based, fresh dish, and the lightness of the aromatics plus crisp flavor has now made the Villa Antinori Bianco my absolute favorite white wine. That is precisely why I could not bare it for a sauce on my next dish- Low Fat Chicken Florentine

While the Panzanella salad is beyond hearty, I found a dinner isn’t complete without some sort of protein present. The salad already provides good carbs and some fats, so it was my intention to create a lower-fat entrée. Chicken Florentine is normally dressed with a butter/white wine perhaps combined with another flavor or two to create a sauce. However, I felt a great spinach sauté and tasty chicken breading could provide the flavors and textures necessary to enjoy and be satisfied with this dish. I found the breading of the chicken is a great tie to the salad but definitely needed the heaping tablespoon of Pecorino Romano cheese on top to reach the zenith of low-fat flavor. And, the vegetables’ contrasts of raw onions and tomatoes with the cooked baby spinach are both interesting and healthful.

LowFat Chicken Florentine
  • ½ sliced sweet onion; 2” long pieces
  • 4 cloves of garlic; roughly chopped.
  • 3 large chicken breasts
  • ½ flour
  • 1egg
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 4 cups fresh baby spinach
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • garlic powder
  • dash of lemon juice
  • Season flour generously with salt, pepper, and garlic powder in a swallow bowl.
  • Beat egg in a separate bowl with more salt and pepper.
  • Wash and dry the spinach.
  • Dredge chicken breasts in the flour mixture first, then the egg, then the flour again before transferring to another plate. Repeat for all breasts being careful to not stack the breaded chicken breasts.
  • Chop onions and garlic. Cover large sauté pan bottom with olive oil and heat it up over medium meat.
  • Add onions first and cook about 3 minutes. Add garlic. Cook 2 minutes more. Add chicken breasts. Cook 3-4 minutes on each side. Cooking the onion and garlic pieces onto the outer breading is preferred. Transfer chicken breasts to over ready plate and cover with tinfoil. Put plate into over that should still be cooling from toasting the Panzanella cubes.
  • Lower the heat to medium-low and add spinach and using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, scrape up the bits from cooking the chicken into the spinach. Season with a dash or two of lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Quickly sauté about 3 minutes and transfer to a serving platter. Arrange chicken breasts on top and sprinkle Pecorino Romano cheese on top.

After all that, there isn’t much more to say than Mangia!

Stay tuned for parts 2 & 3 coming soon in the 'Sayounara to Summer Salads Series' !


redkathy said...

Seriously delicious! Italian cuisine, my favorite. My grandmother made this type of salad. She always used home made bread from the prior day, and fresh basil. I never understood why she would wet the bread, but it was fabulous!

eatlivetravelwrite said...

Love love love the panzanella salad. We just used the last of our home grown tomatoes in soup it's that cold here already...

Angie's Recipes said...

The Panzanella salad looks perfect!

Angie's Recipes

Anonymous said...

A delicious meal! The Panzanella salad looks excellent!

Tasty Eats At Home said...

I am so sad that I never tried a panzanella salad before I had to go gluten-free. Aaah, bread + salad, sounds so divine! Your salad looks so yummy!

Divina Pe said...

I just love any any kind of panzanella salad.

Anonymous said...

wow! this looks amazing...i'll have to put it off a bit until the little one is born...but i see myself enjoying this next summer:)

Proud Italian Cook said...

Rachael, I loved this post, and I love a crunchy bread panzanella salad. Your chicken sounds like a perfect pairing along with your wine. Your last photo is so inviting, I just want to pull up a chair and dig in! I will stay tuned for part 2!

Palidor said...

What an amazing meal! The salad and chicken florentine both look so tasty.

Marija said...

:) We really made similar salads at the same time! Love that Chicken Florentine recipe too! (I also had chicken with my salad :)))

Andrea said...

Your panzanella recipe sounds great. I love panzanella, but I certainly didn't make enough this summer... :(

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