I was never a salad guy. When I went to a pot luck, I would offer to bring "anything but salad" because my salads were plain. That was before I decided to work on my salad chops. Instead of thinking of it as a lettuce foundation accessorized with random refrigerator residents, I learned how to build flavors, just as we do with other dishes.
One of my favorites is panzanella — bread salad.
Bread in a salad? Well, sure — but usually, they are toasted and we call them croutons. Panzanella makes bread the star.
I came back from the farmer's market today with a sourdough baguette. It had a very sturdy crust and chewy texture. That's perfect for panzanella because you want a bread that will retain some texture when it soaks up some dressing.Panzanella is easy. Tear up some bread — stale bread works wonderfully — and build a salad around it. I use a simple vinaigrette or just some olive oil and a little vinegar with a few herbs. The only trick is to let it sit for 10 minutes after you add the dressing, to let the bread soften and absorb flavor.
I love the texture: The bread is chewy in spots, soft and juicy where it has soaked up the dressing. I like to use wet, meaty vegetable ingredients like avocados, artichoke hearts, olives and lots of juicy tomatoes. I avoid hard vegetables like carrots because the bread should be the main source of toothy texture.
You don't need a recipe, but here's one anyway.
Panzanella (Bread Salad)
1 avocado, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
4 thick slices of crusty, chewy bread, such as sourdough or ciabatta (stale bread is fine).
1/2-1 cup artichoke hearts
1/2 cup olives
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1/2 clove garlic, smashed and minced.
1/4-1/2 cup vinaigrette or 3 T olive oil and 1 T vinegar or balsamic vinegar
Herbs such as thyme, marjoram, or basil.
Start with the avocado. Cut into 3/4 to 1-inch chunks and place in serving bowl. Squeeze 1/2 a lemon on them, salt lightly and toss.
Cut up the rest of the vegetables and add to the bowl.
Tear (don't cut) the bread into bite-sized chunks. Add to the bowl along with the rest of the ingredients. Toss. Add salt to taste.
Wait 5-10 minutes before serving.