California Style Panzanella Salad for Memorial Day
Straight up, I’m head-over-heels, obsessed with Italy. The culture, the history, the architecture, the art, the city grit, the charm, and my God, the food - it is a country I find so incredibly marvelous, I almost don’t even have words.
And after returning from an amazing vacation in Japan, an exceptionally beautiful and clean country that exudes so much warmth, manners, safety, and hospitality, I can honestly say my traveling heart is absolutely, positively, still fluttering madly over Italy.
Let’s talk about the food in Rome, specifically. The pasta, good lord, that pasta. So tender and perfectly dressed, the rich sauces don’t even feel a little bit heavy on your stomach. Cacio e pepe, Carbonara, and my personal favorite, All’amatriciana (recipe coming soon) - it’s all just so heavenly. The pizza too, it often comes wood fired and with delightful char on the insanely flavorful crust along with the most robust and wonderful red sauce you’ve ever tasted. With just a few dollops of mozzarella and fresh basil, it’s the kinda thing you could eat for the rest of your life and never blink an eye.
Then there’s Tuscany’s rustic cuisine. Enter truffled everything, fish stew, Coccoli (fried balls of dough, usually served with prosciutto), bread soup, and of course, Panzanella! Essentially a cold bread salad, panzanella is hard not to love. And that’s where this little recipe comes in.
While the Italians obviously don’t celebrate Memorial Day, I couldn’t think of a more unexpected and delicious salad to serve this weekend for friends. While the traditional version simply calls for stale bread, tomatoes, olive oil, onion, vinegar, basil, salt, and pepper, I decided to change it up ever so slightly - with the addition of avocado and prosciutto. Because quite frankly, prosciutto ranks supreme always in recipes and because avocado justs gives a nod to California...so it had to be included.
Also, I totally used seeded challah bread and it was delectable. I say use whatever bread you have or you love - so long as it’s left out overnight or at the very least, toasted in the oven or over the stove, you should be golden.
Californian Panzanella Salad
3 cups day old French or Italian bread, cut into 1x1 inch cubes
2 tablespoons really good olive oil
2 cups very ripe tomatoes, largely chopped (I halved heirloom cherry tomatoes)
2-3 ounces prosciutto, chiffonade cut (about 4 slices)
½ cup ripe avocado, cubed
⅓ cup vidalia onion, finely sliced and
¼ cup packed fresh torn basil, divided
For the salad dressing:
½ cup really good olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
Let bread sit out overnight. In a large saucepan, bring 2 tablespoons olive oil to medium-high heat. Toast bread cubes until golden brown on all sides. Remove from heat.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk to combine salad dressing ingredients. Then add tomatoes, onion, and basil and stir until combined. Add bread and gently stir once more. Let sit for 1 hour so flavors can develop.
To the bowl, gently mix in avocado, prosciutto, and remaining basil. Spoon into a serving dish and enjoy!