Grilled Panzanella (Tuscan Bread and Tomato Salad)Steven Raichlen
Italians call it panzanella; Lebanese call it fattoush. It’s one of the most refreshing salads you can make in summer, not to mention a great way to resuscitate less than fresh bread. Traditional Italian panzanella is not grilled, so it lacks the charred smoky flavors that keep us pyromaniacs wed to our grills. What makes this version truly extraordinary is the contrast of grilled and raw ingredients—crisp toast and fire-charred onions, crunchy cucumbers and juicy tomatoes. Serve as a substantial salad or a light summer meal. Note: I write this recipe in broad strokes, not precise lines. Substitute other vegetables depending on what’s freshest and best.
Grilled Panzanella (Tuscan Bread and Tomato Salad)
- Advance Prep: 20 Minutes
- Grill Time: 10 Minutes
- Yield: Serves 2 to 4
- Method: Direct Grilling
- Equipment: Can be grilled over charcoal or gas, but for the best flavor, grill over wood or a wood-enhanced fire. If you’re enhancing a charcoal or gas fire, you’ll need hardwood chunks or chips (unsoaked), see page 8. You’ll also need wooden toothpicks and a wire rack.
- Vegetable oil for oiling the grill grate
- 4 thick slices country-style bread (each slice should be 1 inch thick and, ideally, the bread will be slightly stale)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large red onion, peeled and cut into 6 wedges
- 2 large luscious ripe red tomatoes
- Coarse salt (sea or kosher) and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cucumber, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice (seeded or not—your choice)
- 2 ribs celery, thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 1/2 cup kalamata or other brined or cured black olives
- 1 tablespoon drained brined capers
- 8 basil leaves, rolled up and thinly slivered, plus a sprig for garnish
- 1 to 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or to taste
- 3 ounces ricotta salata cheese (optional)
1: Set up your grill for direct grilling and heat to high. If enhancing a charcoal fire, add the wood chunks or chips to the coals; if enhancing a gas fire, place the chunks or chips in your grill’s smoker box or place chunks under the grate directly over one or more burners. Brush or scrape your grill grate clean and oil it well.
2: Lightly brush the bread slices on both sides with olive oil. Pin the onion wedges crosswise with toothpicks (this helps them hold together). Lightly brush the onion wedges and whole tomatoes with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
3: Grill the bread slices until darkly toasted, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Grill the onion wedges until browned, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Grill the tomatoes until blistered and browned all over, but still raw in the center, 4 to 6 minutes total. Transfer the bread, onion, and tomatoes to a wire rack and let cool.
4: Break the grilled bread into 1-inch pieces into a mixing bowl. Remove the toothpicks from the onion wedges and thinly slice the onions crosswise. Add it to the bread in the bowl. Cut the tomatoes into 1-inch chunks (remove and discard any stems), and add them with their juices to the bread. Add the cucumber, celery, olives, capers, slivered basil, vinegar, and 5 tablespoons of olive oil (or to taste). Toss well and let stand so the tomato juices soften the bread, about 5 minutes. Correct the seasoning, adding salt, pepper, or vinegar to taste: The salad should be highly seasoned. Shave, slice, or crumble the ricotta salata (if using) over the salad and garnish with the basil sprig.
You’ll want to use a rich-flavored country-style bread from an artisanal bakery for this salad: Italian pane Pugliese or French boule come to mind, but any rustic bread will do. The tomatoes should be vine-ripened and farmstead (if not from your garden) and should never have seen the inside of a refrigerator. Ricotta salata is a firm salty cheese made from pressed ricotta-it’s great for shaving, slicing, or crumbling over the salad.