I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I love Ina Garten. So I can't help but enjoy the Barefoot Bloggers Event. A few weeks ago I was googling something about her and stumbled on a nasty board where everyone was raving about how pretentious and insincere she is and I was hurt. LOL. I think she's wonderful and can't wait to watch every episode. Aside from her beautiful house, fine German automobiles, and cute relationship with her husband, she has the BEST recipes. I gathered the ingredients for this Italian salad last minute and didn't know how it was going to come together. I don't know why I was worried, though, because it was amazing. I think everyone that ate it agreed it was the best salad we've had in a long time. One of the great things about Panzanella is that it's kind of a "leftover salad", using day old bread, whatever tomatoes and veggies you have on hand and tossing with a simple vinaigrette. This is the kind of thing that is easy to through together and improvise, too. And for the sake of improvisation, I subconsciously forgot to add the cucumbers sitting happily in the fridge to mine. So go ahead and make it your own- it will still be tangy, sweet, crunchy, and delicious.
Coincidentally, a just saw Alton Brown's tomato episode so I incorporated a few tricks from his Panzanella recipe into Ina's. He sears half of the tomatoes for another texture, so I did that before adding the bread to the pan to crisp. I also sliced and baked my bread for a few minutes to replicate Alton's step of leaving it out overnight. Then, I added one head of romaine lettuce to the final product. I thought it came out just perfect and I LOVED Ina's dressing. I'm always looking for a good vinaigrette that pleases many different palates- not too sweet, not to sour, not too tangy, not to bland. This one was wonderful and while the recipe made more than I needed for the Panzanella, I was happy to put the leftovers in the fridge for our next salad. Thanks Melissa, for the awesome choice!
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties
Note: This salad makes a very large portion and is best served immediately after tossing. I would half it for 2 adults and serve with Rotisserie chicken for an easy summer meal.
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes (I used about 3 cups of grape tomatoes)
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 red onion, cut in 1/2 and thinly sliced
20 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons capers, drained
1 head of Romaine Lettuce, chopped
For the vinaigrette: (even with the lettuce, I only used about 2/3 of this, so pare down according to your tastes)
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar (I used white wine vinegar)
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread and salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed.
For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together.
In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, basil, lettuce, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Serve, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend.