This salad is a celebration of two things—heirloom tomatoes and homemade croutons.
Davis is in the heart of tomato growing country, so for the whole month of August you'll see what I call "tomato turns" or what happens when tomato trucks take a turn onto or off of the freeway too fast and tomatoes fall out. There is a particular section on the ramp on 113 North that is notorious for being covered in very sad smashed tomatoes. That's how I know we're in the thick of tomato season and that they should be gobbled up until they are no longer in season.
If you've never had a panzanella salad, it's a tomato salad with crisped croutons that soak up the dressing/tomato juices. But not to the point where the bread is soggy which makes it less ideal for leftovers. This is a salad best eaten when it's fresh and you don't want to cook. Okay, you do have to turn on your oven to make the croutons but that is totally worth it. Rustic bread toasted in olive oil—yes, please.
I found this recipe on Serious Eats which had a genius method of pre-salting the tomatoes before adding them to the salad. This helped to flavor the tomatoes, release a lot of tomato liquid and create a base for the dressing. There was almost too much dressing at the end so I saved most of it for future salads and another round of panzanella. For my version, I also added cucumbers for another type of crunch. After photographing this salad, I've also been adding fresh mozzarella which makes it like caprese meets bruschetta?? So if you have any of that on hand, I highly recommend it.
Even though I said this makes poor leftovers, I found that separating the bread and the tomatoes makes it okay to eat it at another time. Simply toss the two together the next day and voila, easy panzanella salad part II.
This is dinner for me for as long as I can stretch it out!
Adapted from Serious Eats
Yields: 4 servings
Homemade croutons can be prepared the day before. Cool completely and seal in a Ziploc bag.
Deseeding the tomatoes helps to remove more liquid. Heirlooms can be particularly seedy so I removed as many as I could. You will also want to use juicy tomatoes so that you can make the dressing from the juice.
Reserve leftover dressing for other salads or for another round of panzanella.
- 4 cups rustic sourdough bread torn into approximately 1½-inch pieces
- 8 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 4 cups heirloom tomatoes, deseeded and cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 hothouse cucumber - deseeded, cut in half, and into ½-inch slices
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
- 1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
- 1 medium clove garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
- ½ teaspoon dijon mustard (optional)
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or red wine vinegar
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ½cup packed basil leaves, roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Place torn bread on a large baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil and use your hands to toss to coat. If there are large pools of olive oil underneath, move bread pieces around to soak up that liquid gold. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and firm but not browned completely. Flip pieces of bread halfway through. Set aside to cool.
In the meantime, place tomatoes and cucumbers in a colander set over a large bowl and season with 2 teaspoons kosher salt. Toss to coat. Set aside at room temperature to drain, tossing occasionally, while the bread is toasting. Drain for a minimum of 15 minutes.
To make the dressing, remove colander with tomatoes from bowl with tomato juice. Place colander with tomatoes in the sink as it will continue to drip. Pour tomato juice in a medium bowl. Add shallot, garlic, mustard, and vinegar to the bowl with tomato juice. Whisking constantly, drizzle in the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.
When ready to eat the salad, combine toasted bread, tomatoes, and desired amount of dressing in the large bowl. Add basil leaves. Toss everything to coat and season with salt and pepper. Let rest for 15-30 minutes before serving, tossing occasionally until bread reaches desired texture. Eat immediately.