Panzanella a genius example of creative leftover usage. It’s a classic Tuscan salad of stale bread and over-ripe tomatoes, tossed with basil and moistened with olive oil and vinegar. But the beautiful colors and bright fresh flavors make it elegantly simple, the kind of food you imagine yourself throwing together if you lived in a stone house in the Italian hills.
This is my riff on a panzanella, perfect for a quick summer supper. It was born of leftovers too. Bits of the delicious bread bought at the farmers that I didn’t eat immediately, those last few baby tomatoes, a handful of basil from my patch. The creamy mozzarella takes it close to a classic caprese salad, and adds that nice gooey richness that makes it a meal. It takes minutes to prepare but makes a delicious, elegant dish. A nice drizzle of quality olive oil is the perfect finishing touch – you could even drizzle a little extra balsamic on if you fancy. I think the simple version highlights the bursting tomatoes and fresh herbs, but feel free to add some garlic or diced onion.
8 ounces soft Italian bread
6 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes
1 8-ounce ball mozzarella cheese
7 – 8 large basil leaves
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease and 8 by 8 inch square baking dish. Cut or tear the bread into bite size chinks and scatter in the baking dish. Nestle the tomatoes between the cubes, spreading them out as much as possible. Cut the mozzarella into pieces, roughly the size of the tomatoes, and nestle them around the dish too. Tear the basil into pieces, or nicely cut it into ribbons and tuck them around the whole affair as well.
Measure the milk in a 2 cup jug, then add the eggs. Beat well, add the balsamic vinegar, salt and generous grinds of black pepper. Beat until it is all thoroughly combined. Pour the milk mixture over the bread, doing your best to distribute it evenly. Press down on the bread cubes with a knife or a spatula just to get them moist.
Cover the dish with foil and bake for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and bake 15 minutes more, until the top is golden brown, the cheese is melted and the tomatoes are beginning to burst.
Serve hot, drizzled with olive oil.