Italian Panzanella Salad
Lemon Garlic Vinaigrette
I’ve been dreaming of creating this salad for a while now. It all started when my husband and I were discussing menu items for our restaurant. I always come up with super inventive and creative ideas that he so nicely listens to (although he knows they would be to difficult to execute or implement easily into their time stretched prep structure). Nonetheless he indulges me and listens and tells me that it sounds “delicious, great, fantastic, etc.” Also, my food ideas don’t exactly fit their style of restaurant- East Coast Italian food. Where my style is a lot of Mediterranean inspired dishes (or wherever the wind blows me) with a Cali cool confidence, like a “hey we’ll see if this turns out, if not we’ll throw some avocado on it and it will be marvelous”, that lean towards the healthier side… although don’t get me wrong, I can throw down and cook and murder some comfort food like no one’s business.
Anyway, Easter is approaching and I am trying to think of something yummy, delicious, and different to bring since I am assigned “salad & a side dish” to bring to our get together. Anyone who knows me, knows that I would contemplate bringing just a green salad, but in the end would decide it was too boring and that I needed to bring some taste bud-awakening, innovative, and beautiful salad that most people haven’t heard of therefore I get to educate the fellow party goers on the brilliance of my dish.
If you haven’t noticed by now… I”m a bit of an attention whore. Always have been, always will be. I’m not the scream in your face, jump up and down with my boobs hanging out kind, but the subtle, sleek, let me super impress you with my cooking photos and personal style kind.
This dish, like many others I enjoy taking to gatherings is easy and fast to prepare, can be made ahead of time, served cold or room temp, and can be modified so that it doesn’t have any dairy in it that way it can sit out at room temperature without any worry.
The beautiful and vibrant colors in this salad make me so happy and are a great reminder of the time of year we are in… SPRING!!! All the fruits and veggies look so gorgeous and it just makes me smile walking through the produce section at the grocery store. The beautiful oranges and reds really make this salad pop against the hints of pale green from the cucumbers and deep but intense emerald color of the parsley. It’s crunchy, cool, tangy, salty, and has just a touch of sweetness from the bell peppers that were roasted off over an open flame.
Try making this salad and taking it to your Easter brunch gathering, and then rightfully gloat and and say “I know, it’s so delicious, right?”, when everyone tells you how good it is… or just… you know… say “Thank you”… whatever’s more your style.
1 Large French or Italian loaf of bread
1 Large Hot House Cucumber
1 of each: Red, Yellow, and Orange Bell Peppers (3 total)
2 Large firm Roma Tomatoes
1 bunch Italian Flat Leaf Parsley
2.5 Ounces Shaved Parmesan Cheese
Fresh ground Black Pepper
Your favorite Italian Seasoning Blend
1 Lemon (zest and juice)
1 TBLSPN Greek Yogurt
1 Garlic Clove
Red Wine Vinegar
Red Chili flake ( optional)
1 Teaspoon Agave Nectar or Honey
1 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) ( divided in half)
1/4 cup Unsalted Butter, Melted
Large Mixing Bowl
Microwave safe bowl
Pre heat the oven to 350 Degrees F and pull out 2 rimmed baking sheets. I always put foil or parchment down when baking because I am a fan of anything that makes clean up easier. Next, melt the butter in the microwave in a microwave safe dish. Once melted, add the first 1/2 cup of EVOO to it and set aside. Grab the bread and cut it in half lengthwise (like cutting a roll to make a sub sandwich), lay those 2 pieces flat and cut those into 3rds, so that you end up with 6 long strips of bread. Then dice those into about 1 inch cubes. Lay the croutons on the baking sheets making sure not to crowd them (I laid them on 2) and drizzle with the butter/EVOO mixture evenly. Next sprinkle about a teaspoon of salt over each sheet and some fresh ground black pepper, and then about a tablespoon of Italian seasoning over each (so total for croutons you used 2 teaspoons salt, and 2 tablespoons Italian Seasoning, and some ground black pepper). Toss to coat each piece of bread well. Stick the sheet pans into the oven for about 35-40 minutes, until the croutons are golden brown. Make sure to rotate and swap the sheets from top and bottom shelves in the oven for evenness in browning.
In your large mixing bowl combine the greek yogurt, zest and juice of 1 lemon, 1 garlic clove grated, a couple splashes of red wine vinegar, agave nectar, about a teaspoon of salt, a dash of chili flake (optional), some fresh ground black pepper, and about a teaspoon of your favorite Italian seasoning, using a whisk to mix, drizzle in the other 1/2 cup of EVOO, and combine the mixtures. **To pump up the lemon flavor even more try using a lemon infused olive oil.**
**As you start to chop the vegetables just start adding them to your mixing bowl with the dressing in it, starting with the cucumbers. That way your salad is built in the bowl and you can toss and take all in one! Cucumbers are at the bottom because they will stand up to the dressing with out getting soggy the longest.**
Wash all veggies before hand and dry them off. Take the 3 Bell Peppers and put them over an open flame (over your stove) and let them get a little char on them, about 5 to 10 minutes. You want them to have char but not be flimsy. They should still have structure to them. If you don’t have a gas stove you can stick them under the broiler for a couple minutes to achieve the char… you will need to rotate them so all sides get the char… be super careful as to not burn yourself or set the peppers ablaze while doing this. Once this is done let the peppers cool.
Take the cucumber and cut it in half lengthwise, you should have 2 long halves, then cut those in about 1 inch cubes. Next grab the tomatoes and cut them into quarters (cutting them in half, and then laying them flat, and cutting in half again), lastly cutting the quarters into about 1 inch cubes.
Next, take the stem off and de-seed and de-vein the bell peppers, then cut them into 1 inch strips and then cutting them again to make about 1 inch cubes.
Grab a good handful of parsley and remove most of the stems, give the leaves a good medium rough chop.
Lastly, add the croutons and the Parmesan cheese to the bowl. Toss to combine when you are ready to serve!
Enjoy this gorgeous salad and have a happy Easter!