The Perfect Recipe for Second Day Bread: Panzanella

Nothing beats bread warm and fresh from the bakery, except maybe a  recipe that brings new life to your leftover loaf. You know one that doesn’t scream, stale bread walking.

I’m with Oprah’s, I LOVE BREAD. You’ve seen this ad right?

We love it too Oprah, we do. Unlike Oprah though, we don’t indulge in bread everyday, which means I’m almost always planning for a second dish when I buy fresh bread. Even if I only buy half the loaf–which by the way, most bakeries and grocery stories are more than happy to sell you if you ask–there is usually SOME bread left.

So what’s a gal to do when 1. You’re cooking dinner for an Italian Man who knows quality and loathes leftovers. 2. You’re watching your grocery budget and 3. Worst yet, you’re striving to achieve zero food waste, yep that’s zero food waste? Sure there’s croutons, crostini and even french toast but once you’ve mastered those, then what? You get creative, that’s what.

My twist on Panzanella is admittedly, pretty far from traditional. Mainly because I get really, really squeamish around wet bread, which would be the true traditional way to make it in Tuscany.

Panzanella alla Americana
Panzanella alla Americana

I start with second day bread and toast it in the oven to get it nice and crispy, ensuring the bread still has plenty of crunch at the same time it soaks up the juices from the tomatoes and vinaigrette. Plus, I mirror the fresh bright flavors of tomatoes, onions and capers with deeper flavors and textures of roasted tomatoes, onions and fried capers.

I love the simplicity of traditional Panzanella recipes, but I much prefer the mixture of fresh and crunchy that I experimented my way to through many iterative versions of this dish. Plus, you don’t have to squeeze out wet bread (gross right! No, just me, still.)

Panzanella alla Americana

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Time: 45 Minutes
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

This recipe is not exact. Since it’s intended for left over amounts that vary, it’s laid out by portions.

Ingredients:

  • One Part Left Over Bread (sliced into cubes) [Approx. 3 Cups]
  • One Part Fresh Tomato (sliced into wedges similar in size to bread cubes) [Approx. 3 medium tomatoes.]
    • Think one medium tomato for each cup of cubed bread
    • The remainder of this recipe can be altered based on how much bread you have. My benchmark here was 3 cups of Bread Cubes and 3 tomatoes.
  • One Quarter Part Red Onion (Sliced very thin) [Approx. 1/4 on onion]
  • One Tablespoon Capers (Drained and divided in half)
  • Handful of Fresh Basil (torn or roughly chopped) [Approx. 1/4 cup]
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic (Smashed but not sliced)
  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil 
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice, red wine or white wine vinegar (whatever you have handy to give you some acidity)
Panzanella Prep
Panzanella Prep

Directions:

  1. ROAST: ALL the Bread Cubes plus HALF of the tomatoes and onion slices on a baking sheet
  2. Drizzle 1 Tablespoon (or more depending on your quantities) enough olive oil over the tomatoes, onions and bread to just coast when stirred, Salt and Pepper to taste.
  3. Place in a 350 degree oven for 10 to 20 minutes.
    • Keep an eye on the onions, you likely will need to remove them sooner, depending on how thinly you sliced them.
    • Turn the bread cubes and tomato slices at least once to roast on both sides evenly.
  4. MIX: In a large bowl, toss the remaining fresh tomatoes, onion slices, half the capers and the basil together and lightly salt and pepper to get the juices going on the tomatoes and onions.

    Tomatoes Onions Basil Capers
    Tomatoes Onions Basil Capers
  5. THE CAPERS: in a small skillet, heat remaining olive oil on medium. Carefully add half the capers and the garlic cloves. Use a lid or splatter screen and stand back a second. Even if you drain the capers, they are going to pop a bit. That is exactly what you want though, the capers to pop open and brown up a bit, till they are crispy. Just be sure to remove with a spoon before they blacken and the garlic burns. The fresh capers add the flavor, the fried give you a crunchy texture and complete the mirroring of fresh and roasted/toasted flavors and textures.
  6. Remove the garlic and discard. Remove the capers to a paper towel to cool and drain, leaving as much of the oil in the skillet as possible.
  7. Off the heat, mix in your acidity to your now perfumed olive oil (lemon juice, white or red wine vinegar).
  8. COMBINE: All the roasted ingredients with the fresh ingredients in your large bowl, drizzle over your oil mixture from the skillet. Mix well to allow the juices from the tomatoes and onions (fresh and roasted) to begin to soak into the bread. Once your bread starts to soak up the juices, give it a taste. Most recipes call for a vinaigrette to be made, but I like my skillet shortcut. Just make sure you can taste all the flavors on the bread and if you don’t, drizzle and stir sparingly till you do!
  9. PLATE & TOP: Once you plate your Panzanella up, top it with your remaining basil and crunchy capers.
    Panzanella alla Americana
    Panzanella alla Americana

My favorite part about this preparation, timing is not critical. It’s great freshly made or since you’ve stared with toasty bread, it’s also great if it sits a bit and soaks up more juices. It’s also easy to adjust and play around with until you get it the way you ultimately like it.

Like heat, sparingly add red pepper flakes. Want a more vinaigrette forward taste, check out Ina’s recipe for a comparison. I just love having another great way to soak up all the savings of never wasting stale bread!

More Money Saving Recipes: All Else Fails, Roast an OnionZucchini Carpaccio, Homemade Gnocchi with Creamy Blue Cheese Sauce

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