Nothing beats bread fresh from the bakery, except maybe a recipe that brings new life to day-old bread. My blog followers know, I loath wasting food. For me wasting food is the same thing as wasting money. And since wasting money is the same thing as wasting time working, when I could be playing, writing or blogging, when it comes to wasting food I don’t play. I admit my relationship between food, money and time is a bit complicated and we can unpack that in another post together.
For today I’ll get back on point and share my favorite way to not waste day-old bread. Sure there’s croutons, crostini and even french toast but once you’ve mastered those, then what?
Panzanella alla Americana Recipe
My twist on Panzanella is admittedly, pretty far from traditional because I am after all, American first and Italian second. This recipe is for those who loath touching wet bread. Gross!
Toasting day-old bread it in the oven ensures it has crunch even after soaking up the flavorful juices of the tomatoes and vinaigrette. Plus unlike traditional Italian Panzanella recipes, I mirror the fresh bright flavors of tomatoes, onions and capers with deeper flavors of roasted tomatoes, onions and fried capers.
This recipe is not exact. Since it’s intended for left over amounts that vary, it’s laid out by portions.
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)
ROAST: ALL the Bread Cubes plus HALF of the tomatoes and onion slices on a baking sheet
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Off the heat, mix in your acidity to your now perfumed olive oil (lemon juice, white or red wine vinegar).
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!
PLATE & TOP: Once you plate your Panzanella up, top it with your remaining basil and crunchy capers.
My favorite part about this preparation is that timing is not critical. It’s great freshly made but staring with toasted bread means not having to worry about the bread getting too soggy. 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!
Speaking of money saving meals, did you know most bakeries and grocery bakery counters will sell you half a fresh baked loaf? Alas, when you can’t get half a loaf or eat less than you expect, Panzanella turns day old bread into a full second meal and as Ina would say, how easy is that!