Easter Panzanella

011Easter lunch at our house was a success.  We combined a delicious make-ahead meal with the joy of celebrating Resurrection with family and good friends around our table.  Make that tableS because we had thirteen happy diners here last Sunday.  I learned a long time ago that the secret to making good food for guests while enjoying it myself lies in doing almost everything the day before.  Several parts of this meal will be featured in the posts this month, but today’s salad was my favorite.

Panzanella is a traditional dish made in various parts of central Italy, particularly Florence.  There are many variations but almost all use stale bread, cubed, and combined with tomatoes plus other summertime vegetables and basil.  This recipe combines several of those with inspiration from Ina Garten’s preparation for one she calls Greek Panzanella.  I like the addition of feta cheese and Kalamata olives as well her method of pan toasting the bread cubes which go well with the crunchiness of all the fresh vegetables. More traditional bread salad will have the bread cubes soaked in marinade, making a softer ingredient.

Easter Panzanella

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

6-8 cups of bread cubed from Ciabbata or Rosemary Bread

4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved – or  tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 English cucumbers, sliced 1/2-inch thick

2 red bell peppers, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 yellow bell pepper,  cut into 1-inch cubes

1 green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 red onion, cut in 1/2 and thinly sliced

Kalamata olives pitted, 1 cups

Feta cheese, crumbled, 2 cups

Fresh basil for garnish, optional

For the vinaigrette:

4 garlic pods, minced 

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

6 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1  teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Wash all vegetables and pat dry.  Remove seeds from peppers, chop, and place in a large bowl. Add  sliced tomatoes.  Halve the cucumbers lengthwise.  Using the tip of a teaspoon, run  gently down the center to scoop out any seeds, then lay the cucumber halves down to slice and add them along with sliced red onion to the other veggies.  Toss to combine.  If you are making this ahead of time, place each vegetable in a zip loc bag and refrigerate until serving time. I prefer to slice tomatoes at the last minute as they tend to soften.

Prepare vinaigrette by whisking together red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper. Set aside

Heat olive oil in a large iron skillet. Add the bread ; cook over, stirring often, for 8- 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil if needed.   Add  crumbled feta cheese, olives, and  bread cubes to chopped vegetables, then toss with the vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Garnish with a sprig of fresh basil.

Flavor improves by allowing this to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

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