Panzanella is the whole package, baby. It's got beans, veggies, bread, oil, vinegar, and herbs. It's like eating a colorful salad with a side of bread, plus a serving of protein! I admit it's more seasonable for summer than winter, but it was a balmy 58 degrees here in Lancaster today, and I was longing for something sunny and refreshing. So tonight I made a modified version of this Epicurious recipe. The site claims, "This version of the Italian classic is an irresistible mix of crusty-chewy bread cubes and colorful roasted vegetables, all bathed in a lusty balsamic vinaigrette." Well, if that isn't enough to make a girl blush, then I don't know what is!
You will need:
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup plus 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 12-inch lengths of crusty baguette, cut into 1-inch cubes, making about 12 cups (It's an approximation, kids. Don't worry if it's not perfect.)
3/4 lb cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 lb green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
1/2 lb mushrooms, cleaned and cut in half
1 jarred roasted red pepper, chopped
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 Tbsp capers, rinsed, drained, and chopped
1/2 tsp sugar
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Mince and mash garlic clove into a paste with a pinch of salt, using a heavy knife, and then transfer the paste to a small bowl. Add 1/2 cup olive oil in a slow stream, whisking until combined well. (The first time I made this, I did all that. This time, I just used garlic powder. Eh. Lazy.)
Put bread cubes in a large bowl and drizzle with 3 Tbsp of the garlic oil you just made, tossing to combine. Then divide the bread between two shallow baking pans so that the bread can be spread out in a single layer on each pan. Toast in oven, stirring once, for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer to a plate to cool, but leave the oven on.
Gently toss the tomatoes, green beans, and mushrooms with 1 Tbsp oil (not the garlic oil), 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp pepper in a bowl. Arrange the veggies in a single layer on the pan you used for the bread earlier. Roast vegetables, stirring once or twice, 12-16 minutes. Cool vegetables on the pans. (You can turn the oven off now.)
While the veggies cool down, assemble the vinaigrette. Add balsamic vinegar to the remaining garlic oil, along with the capers, sugar, remaining 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper; whisk to combine well.
Put roasted veggies, toasted bread, beans, mozzarella, and basil in a large bowl. Drizzle with dressing and stir with a big spoon to combine well. Allow to sit another 5-10 minutes to let the flavors combine, and then serve at room temperature.
This recipe isn't difficult, despite the number of steps involved. You just have to be willing to pay attention and be patient. I love this recipe, though. I wouldn't quite describe the vinaigrette as "lusty," but it is quite delicious. The sweetness of the balsamic vinegar complements the tang of the capers and tomatoes quite well. And what beautiful color! The texture and flavor harmonies should be enough to make you want to try this right now.
P.S. The original recipe called for an entire pound of mozzarella, which I think is excessive. To me, this dish isn't about the cheese. A little sprinkling of it was a nice accent, but I wouldn't use much more than I did, personally. It's just not necessary in this case.