Giada De Laurentiis' Flavorful Secret To Panzanella Salad

Panzanella is a simple summer salad from the region of Tuscany in Italy that stars a non-vegetable ingredient — bread. At its simplest, dry, stale, or toasted bread is tossed with juicy tomatoes, fresh basil, and olive oil, but it can also include vinegar (usually balsamic) and any number of vegetables. At its base, panzanella salad does the double duty of using up day-old bread and highlighting delicious produce.


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The queen of simple and fresh Italian staples, Giada De Laurentiis, loves a panzanella salad as much as the next person, but she has a hack that really takes the flavors over the top. She grills both the bread and the vegetables, so the entire salad has a smoky char and great depth of flavor. Salt, olive oil, and rich balsamic vinegar make up the simple dressing for this medley of veggies, torn chunks of bread, and a whole lot of fresh basil in this dialed-up panzanella.

Tips for making a grilled panzanella salad

As you might imagine, a good bread salad has to start with good bread. Giada De Laurentiis picks a day-old crusty country loaf, but any hardy bread will work. It should be sturdy enough to handle both grilling and being tossed with a dressing, but not so hard that it won't easily absorb the vegetable juices, oil, and vinegar.

Really good tomatoes are key to a panzanella, which are at their peak in summertime, so naturally, other summer vegetables like cucumbers and bell peppers also sometimes make appearances. For this grilled version, De Laurentiis opts for what she had in from the garden that day — fennel, summer squash, green onions, eggplant, and tomatoes. You could use red onion, corn, asparagus, sweet peppers, or mushrooms — and other tender herbs like parsley, tarragon, or mint could stand in for the basil.

Drizzle thick slices of bread and halved or whole vegetables (depending on the size) with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then grill them just for a few minutes until slightly charred. If you don't have a grill, a grill pan on high heat or the broiler of your oven could also do the trick. De Laurentiis goes for balsamic vinegar, but red wine, white wine, champagne, or white balsamic vinegar would work. Since this is such a simply seasoned salad, it is important to use high-quality vinegar, salt, and oil — like Giada De Laurentiis' favorite olive oil brand.

What to serve with a grilled panzanella salad

The grilled bread will absorb the natural juices from the vegetables, the oil, and vinegar to create a mouthwatering taste and delectable crispy-gone-soggy texture. Panzanella can be a simple, vegetable-forward, side dish, or easily be built out into a whole meal. To add just a little bit of heft, but still keep things vegetarian, consider adding some Italian cheese like balls of fresh mozzarella, craggy cubes of Pecorino Romano, or shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano. For a vegan twist, add hummus or your favorite beans to the mix. Play off the charred flavors by serving this panzanella alongside a grilled protein — steak, salmon, chicken, a firm white fish, skewered shrimp, or even fig and halloumi skewers would all be delightful.

And of course, no Italian al fresco dining would be complete without Italian wine. For a red, choose something medium-bodied and fruity like a negroamaro, nero d'Avola, or even a light and dry lambrusco. An acidic pinot grigio or fruity and herbal Vermentino would similarly be great white options to pair with a grilled panzanella salad.