You know those juices left on your plate after a deliciously saucy meal? The ones you order extra bread for so that you can drag a particularly crusty piece across the plate, sopping up the juices while simultaneously softening up the bread. Panzanella is like a meal of just that plate-sopping-up bread, only the heavy lifting has been taken care of for you. I have a thing for panzanella, mostly because my preferred meals are always those that are centred around bread, and THIS panzanella has a direct line to my heart. I have a thing for textures in my food that usually requires me to place a small amount of each food group into my mouth at the same time to fully enjoy my meal. This salad gives you a crazy blast of textures with every mouthful: briny pops of caper, crunchy tangles of onion, meltingly-soft roasted peppers, juicy tomatoes, plush mozzarella…ughhh, perfection for a multi-texture-seeker like me, basically.
Panzanella w/ (Insane) Basil Dressing
Slightly adapted from Shelley Adams (Whitewater Cooks: with Friends)
2 red peppers
2 yellow peppers
1 large loaf rustic bread, cut into fat cubes (day-old is ideal, but if your bread is fresh just let the cubes toast on a baking sheet for 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven until dried out but not browned at all)
3 large Roma tomatoes, cut into thick wedges
1/3 cup capers, drained and rinsed
½ red onion, sliced into thin half-moons
2 cups fresh bocconcini balls or 1 large ball of fresh mozzarella, cut into bite-sized pieces (not the pizza grating kind – get the wet stuff that comes in liquid)
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, to garnish
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 ½ tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp honey
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 cups fresh basil leaves
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup olive oil
Preheat the broiler and set an oven rack to the second highest level. Place the red and yellow peppers on a foil-lined baking sheet and set under the broiler for 20 minutes. Turn the peppers over when time’s up and broil for another 10 minutes. Turn the peppers so that any remaining pale bits get exposed, and cook for another 5 minutes. The peppers should be super soft with blackened, blistered skins. Place the peppers in a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for 10-15 minutes. Once the peppers are done steaming, carefully pull the stems out (hopefully taking most of the core with you) and peel off the skins. Open up the peppers so that they’re flat and scrape out any remaining seeds. Let cool slightly then slice into wide strips. Set aside.
Combine all of the dressing ingredients (except for the olive oil) in a food processor or blender. Blitz until somewhat pureed then, with the motor still running, drizzle the olive oil in in a slow steady stream until fully incorporated. Taste and re-season as needed.
To assemble the salad, place the bread cubes (day-old or toasted and cooled) in a large salad bowl and toss with ½ cup of the basil dressing. Let the bread sit for ~15 minutes. Add the peppers, tomatoes, capers, red onion, and mozzarella, tossing very gently to combine everything without turning it all into a mess – you want the ingredients to retain some structural integrity. Drizzle with more dressing until everything is as well-coated as you’d like. Garnish with basil leaves. Repeat all summer long.