Pantry Panzanella: A Fresh Meal for All Seasons

When I first moved to New York, my roommate Emily and I calculated that we had ten to twelve dollars a day to spend on food. She stocked up on towers of canned tuna. (Her mercury levels may have been a little high that year.) I experimented with stir-fry, and we frequented the five-for-a-dollar dumpling places in Chinatown and the “half price” sushi across the street. (Eww.)

This classic Italian bread salad recipe would have served us well back then.

I’ve made panzanella twice in the last few weeks. It’s filling and tasty and uses up whatever you have around and whatever is well priced and in season at the farmer’s market: as many vegetables as you can afford, basil that’s about to wilt in a vase on your table, a dried-out piece of a baguette left over from a dinner party, and a can of beans for protein. A ton of garlic punches up the flavor of the croutons and the beans, and half an anchovy deepens the earthiness of the dressing.

I served this one with a (pricey) hunk of creamy burrata, but any fresh mozzarella is nice (I bet soft goat cheese would be too!), and a shaving of parmesan is adequate if that’s what you’ve got.

If you don’t have walnut oil, feel free to use good olive oil instead, though I like the nuttiness that the former brings to the dish. I plan on keeping a little bottle in my fridge so I can make this salad more often: with green beans, kirby cucumbers, and asparagus, with the first fava beans I can find, then, (yay!) with kernels of sweet corn and really good tomatoes. In the fall, you could make one with mushrooms and endive or lightly blanched kale…it’s a dish that encourages improvisation.

Pantry Panzanella with White Beans
serves 3

2 strips bacon or pancetta (optional)
one 15.5 oz can small white beans, rinsed and drained
5 cloves garlic
3 T olive oil
kosher salt
1 T mixed fresh herbs, minced
half a baguette (I used whole-wheat, but I think I prefer white.)
2 shallots
1 1/2 T balsamic vinegar
3 T lemon juice
half of an anchovy fillet
1 1/2 T walnut oil
salt and pepper
3/4 cup fresh shelled peas
5-6 good tomatoes, cut into hunks
1 bunch arugula, washed well and drained
two handfuls fresh basil, torn in ribbons
1 ball fresh mozzarella or burrata cheese

If you’re using bacon or pancetta, cook in a large skillet until crisp. Remove from pan, chop roughly, and set aside. (Save a few teaspoons of bacon grease in the pan for your croutons!) Meanwhile, rinse and drain the beans and place in your salad bowl. Prepare garlic oil by smashing the garlic, olive oil, salt, and mixed herbs in a mortar and pestle. Pour half of the garlic oil onto the beans and toss. Let marinate while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Slice baguette into approximately 1-2″ squares. It’s fine to leave the crust on. Toss in pan with bacon grease (if you have it) and the rest of the garlic oil. Let cook on low, stirring occasionally, to dry out bread. It may not really brown, but you just don’t want it to be soggy. You can prepare the rest of the salad while the bread toasts, just don’t let it burn.

Dice shallots and place in a bowl or mortar and pestle for your dressing. Toss with the balsamic and lemon juice. Smash the anchovy fillet into the dressing until it dissolves, then stir in walnut oil and salt and pepper to taste.

To finish the salad, add peas and tomatoes to salad bowl and sprinkle with a little salt. Add arugula and basil, then pour in dressing and toss well. Add croutons and toss so that the bread absorbs some of the juices. Garnish with bacon, if using, and hunks of mozzarella or burrata.

In budget, salad, vegetables

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