This Summer Panzanella Salad is a riot of colors, textures, and flavors, and certainly one of the best ways to illustrate why simple Italian cuisine can be so satisfying.
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I think it’s fair to say summer’s the season that offers the most opportunities in the kitchen—at least for all of us living in the Northern Hemisphere. Markets are just bursting with the tastiest and most colorful fruits and veggies, so my problem usually is: so much fresh produce, way too little time to enjoy it!
When summer rolls around, I always have a long list of new recipes I want to try, but also seasonal favorites I want to go back to. One dish I invariably make every year when tomatoes are at their peak is Panzanella. This Tuscan salad, traditionally a messy combination of fresh tomatoes, bread cubes, onions, olive oil, and vinegar, is super easy to make and so thoroughly enjoyable to eat on a warm summer night.
In a traditional Panzanella, stale bread is soaked in water, squeezed, then shredded and mixed with the remaining ingredients. I prefer toasting stale bread cubes, then mixing them into the dressing a few minutes before adding the other ingredients, so the liquid the bread absorbs is the dressing itself. Some crunch remains, too, which adds wonderful texture to the salad.
I tend to make Panzanella a bit differently every time, adding cucumbers, basil and other fresh herbs, and Italian cheese to the mix, but last year I made a version that was so good I had to write it down and promised myself I’d make it again and again. My twists were to add fresh, juicy peaches to the mix, swap in chives for the usual onion, and serve the salad topped with milky rich Buffalo Mozzarella. The salad was so gorgeous, full of flavor, and delicious with a glass of rosé that I dubbed it my Summer Panzanella Salad.
Why Summer Panzanella? Because frankly, you shouldn’t be making this salad when tomatoes and peaches are offseason. Summer Panzanella needs the best of the best to shine—that is, the juiciest peaches and the ripest tomatoes. This is a celebratory salad, a dish that makes you at once infinitely grateful for summer produce, and somber at the idea that the season will invariably end sooner than you want it to. But after two or three bites, bitter thoughts dissipate and all that remains is the incredible joy produced by a handful of simple ingredients. I often say Italian is the cuisine that kindles the purest pleasure in me, and if I had to illustrate that pleasure, I’ll say this Summer Panzanella Salad would do a pretty good job at it.
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