Panera's Panzanella Salad

A Salad for Every Season

Just as it's fun and educational to match wine with food, it's also great to tweak traditional dishes so they better fit the season. Here's some inspiration for creating a unique winter bread salad.

By this time of year, you may be getting a bit tired of soups and stews. While you shouldn't forget about traditional comfort food just yet, we thought it might be a good idea to stir up your taste buds with something different but still seasonal.

Panzanella is a traditional Italian bread salad. It's typically served in summer full of fresh tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers, basil and other seasonal herbs. But what most home cooks don't realize is that it can be adapted to any time of year just by changing some of the garden ingredients and getting a little creative. What's more, it's quick and easy to put together, but it still makes for a satisfying family meal or even an elegant and colorful dinner-party side dish.

What makes panzanella so different and wonderful is that the bread isn't turned into croutons like in most salads. Rather, it's cubed and left soft in order to soak up the surrounding tastes. In this way, the bread becomes the centerpiece; you want something with flavor and chew that won't dissolve on either the plate or the palate. Panera Bread® head baker Tom Gumpel prefers Panera's signature Sourdough for panzanella. What follows is his base recipe, which serves 4: 

Ingredients 

  • 1 Panera Sourdough bread bowl, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1½ heads of romaine lettuce, chopped into 2-inch squares
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese
  • 12 ounces balsamic vinaigrette 

Directions 

  1. Place cubed bread, Romaine lettuce, cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette into a large bowl. Toss and… 
  2. …wait. Here's where things get interesting. While Tom's recipe is great by itself, to "winterize" it simply add a few of your favorite seasonal vegetables. Options include roasted squash, Brussels sprouts, baby beets, and sweet potatoes. To make it even heartier (and use up some leftovers) experiment with roasted chicken, strips of beef, or broiled salmon.

 

Like famous chefs, you can create a signature panzanella for each season of the year. Name it after yourself, of course.