Recipe: Panzanella “Italian Summer in a Bowl”
This summer my vines are bursting with tomatoes and the basil is a deep green. With the hot summer night heat, it is the perfect time for panzanella. This Italian bread salad is the quintessential summer lunch or dinner side dish. It's an easy mixture of ripe tomatoes, red onion, chunks of bread, capers or olives, and fresh mozzarella. It can be on your table in 30 minutes or less, and it's easy to change up the ratios to your own tastes.
You can also experiment by adding other ingredients, like cucumbers or roasted red bell peppers to increase your vegetable intake. Do not omit the oil in the dressing. New research says that full-fat salad dressing improves the nutrients you absorb from vegetables. In fact, fat-free or low-fat dressing may hinder your ability to absorb nutrients. Enjoy this salad’s cheese and olive oil knowing it’s the amount of fat, more than the type of fat, that helps you to absorb a healthy dose of lycopene, an antioxidant in tomatoes that can lower your risk of cancer and heart disease. This is also a great recipe for using up any stale bread you have. Bring this recipe to a higher level by substituting the mozzarella with burratta, my new favorite version of mozzarella with a creamy inside that is deliciously decadent.
Preparation time: 30 minutes or less
1 half loaf Italian bread (If it's stale, it's even better! If not, slice and toast it in the oven for a few minutes.)
1-3 cloves garlic, depending on preference
3 large, ripe tomatoes
2 to 3 tablespoons capers
One-quarter cup red onion, chopped fine
10 basil leaves, torn into pieces
1/2 pound mozzarella, chopped into cubes
Optional: half of a cucumber, peeled and chopped into 1-inch cubes, olives or roasted red bell peppers
2 tablespoons red wine Vinegar
2 tablespoons Olive oil
Dash of Salt
Cut bread into 1-inch slices and rub both sides with the garlic clove. Stack bread and cut into 1-inch cubes.
Cut the tomatoes into 1-inch chunks and place in a large bowl. Add the onion, capers, basil, any optional items, and fresh mozzarella and toss.
Whisk the vinegar and olive oil, season with salt and dress the salad. Add the bread and toss to combine. The bread will begin to soak up the tomato juice, vinegar, and olive oil; serve it immediately if you like a little crunch or let it sit for 20 minutes to allow the bread to soften and absorb all that flavor.
Nutrition information based on 8 servings
Calories: 162, Total Fat: 7 g, Saturated Fat: 3.3 g; Monounsaturated Fat: 2.8 g, Sodium: 429 mg, Carbohydrates: 15 g, Protein: 9.5 g, Fiber: 1.4 g, Calcium: 204 mg
Will you use the base recipe or add different ingredients like burrata cheese or red peppers in this summer salad?
Trina Robertson, MS, RD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition. As a HealthyEating.org Mom she shares her positive approach to healthy eating with the goal of inspiring others to prepare and enjoy foods from each of the food groups. As a Project Manager with the Dairy Council of California, Trina develops, evaluates, and promotes nutrition education materials for students and adults. At home she enjoys cooking and sharing meals with her family. Her most rewarding accomplishment is that her boys are good eaters and are learning to cook. Follow Trina on Twitter @TrinaR_RD and find more Healthy Eating ideas on Facebook.