Meatless Monday: Be Creative with Panzanella Salad
For several summers in a row, I’ve attended meditation retreats at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. It is always a joy—a “coming home”—for me to be able to sit, walk and be in silence for a week or two. In addition to the joy of practice, I seem to have lucked out on practicing in places where the meals are stellar. I often come home from retreats at both The Last Resort and Spirit Rock with new recipe ideas.
One meal that inspired further exploration happened at Spirit Rock three summers ago. I had a vague idea of what panzanella salad is, but had never eaten one, let alone made one. Perhaps it was my heightened enjoyment of all sense pleasures in the midst of the quiet, but my first-ever panzanella salad at Spirit Rock was transformative. The fact that I knew I’d be needing to ramp up my tomato usage when I got home made my first panzanella experience even better.
When I returned home, I looked in my cookbooks and found several different recipes, all of which included tomatoes (sometimes cherry tomatoes, sometimes full-sized), peppers, bread, olive oil and some flavor of vinegar. But that’s where the similarity ended. One recipe includes fresh peaches; another includes cucumbers; another includes olives; several include capers. Some favor oregano, while others favor basil. From this, I gather that creativity is not only allowed but encouraged.
If your diet is gluten free, this salad, centered around bread as it is, may not be your best choice. An online search for gluten-free sourdough bread yielded only one premade choice. While it looks to include great ingredients, and is made to order, the $12.50 price seems a bit steep for a bread that will be used to soak up the juices of a panzanella salad. Your best bet for a gluten-free alternative would probably be to use whatever is your favorite gluten-free bread. If you haven’t yet found a favorite, perhaps this post can help.
Last week I made a panzanella salad using all the main staple ingredients, but the accessory ingredients included only foods I could find that were exceedingly fresh and organic. I didn’t follow a particular recipe, but instead pulled from several different ones, and added my own modifications. Here’s the salad I made most recently—to the best of my memory:
3/4-1 loaf crusty bread (I like sourdough for this.)
3 T olive oil
4-6 fresh tomatoes, chopped in 1/2- to 1-inch pieces (Include different varieties and colors if you can.)
1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced in half moons
1 large cucumber, peeled and seeded, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
1 yellow pepper, cut in 1-inch squares
1/2 cup (or more) kalamata olives, roughly chopped
1/3 cup of capers
20 fresh basil leaves, torn
salt to taste (optional)
1/2 cup olive oil
3 T red wine or balsamic vinegar
1-2 cloves minced garlic
Cut bread into 1-inch squares. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Add bread cubes and sauté, turning occasionally, until all sides are golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Place tomatoes, onions, cucumber, pepper, olives, capers and basil in a large bowl. Whisk dressing together, add to the veggies and then add basil. Mix together well. Add bread cubes. Taste for salt and add fresh-ground black pepper. I found that the salt used to sauté the bread was sufficient for the salad I made, but you may want to add a bit.
Serve immediately, or let sit for a while to let flavors blend. This salad is good a day later too. I like it best at room temperature rather than cold from the refrigerator.
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