Just your classic Italian bread salad with crusty bread, tomatoes, basil, lettuce... and bacon. This BLT panzanella recipe makes an excellent side dish for barbecues or anytime you're in the mood for a break from pasta salad.
It's a salad made of bread, people. BREAD! Bread soaked in fresh tomato juices and olive oil, flavored with basil and, in this case, bacon. Hellooooo lover.
Basically, if you've ever dreamed of a salad made entirely of croutons (that is still whole-foods based and healthy, of course), keep reading.
What is Panzanella?
For those of you who haven't heard of panzanella, it's a fabulous invention of Tuscan genius otherwise known as a bread salad. By using crusty or stale bread (we'll talk about this in a minute) as a salad base, it soaks up the juice from the fresh tomatoes and dressing (usually a simple olive oil and vinegar combination of sorts), without turning into mush. So, yeah. I'll have a salad with extra croutons, please; hold the salad.
(^Side note, I actually adore veggie-packed salads, but I was on a roll there.)
BLT Panzanella Ingredients
The essence of panzanella is bread, tomatoes, olive oil and vinegar, though there are usually some onions and basil in the mix. Occasionally I'll come across a panzanella recipe with cucumber, but beyond that, it's purely up to your cravings. Apparently I was craving a BLT? I suppose all the fresh summer tomatoes just kinda get me in that mood. Let's talk through it, ingredient by ingredient:
- Crusty bread. Think a simple French bread or other bakery bread that has a very crusty outside. You want sturdy enough bread to withstand the tomato juice and dressing, so stale bread works beautifully. Alternatively, you can toast the bread pieces in the oven for 10-15 minutes to crisp them up a bit. My go-to? Any crusty bread from a local bakery (sometimes I stop in our local Whole Foods or my favorite bakery: Madison Sourdough), whole grain if I can, but more importantly in this case, minimal ingredients.
- Bacon. My first heartbreak? Definitely when I found out that most bacon contains known carcinogens because of how it's prepared. Luckily, there are brands that make clean, sustainably sourced bacon. I always use the kind by Applegate!
- Tomatoes. Flavorful, fresh summer tomatoes are SUPERB -- use whichever kind you like! I used Roma, but secretly wished I'd had some heirloom tomatoes on hand for their beautiful colors.
- Lettuce. True to your classic BLT, we're sticking with head lettuce in this recipe -- I just pick up whichever I find first at my local farmers market, whether it be romaine, butter, or any other basic green head lettuce. Other greens will work, but there's something about a crunchier, hydrating lettuce that makes this whole thing work.
- Red Onion. For flavor and color.
- Basil. A panzanella staple, fresh basil gives this recipe an extra dose of freshness and flavor.
- A simple dressing made of olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, salt and pepper.
And now? We make a salad out of sandwich ingredients.
How to Make BLT Panzanella
Panzanella is mostly a matter of combining ingredients, but there are a few tips you'll want to pay attention to, so that you don't end up with a tragic, soggy pile of mush.
Tips for the Best Panzanella
- Drain the tomatoes first. Chop them up, place them in a container with salt, and let that sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. The salt will pull juices out of the tomatoes, and you can drain that juice off before combining the tomatoes with the other ingredients. Don't worry -- there will be plenty of tomato juice left in the tomatoes themselves, but we just want to eliminate excess to avoid soggy bread.
- Use stale or oven-toasted bread. If you're using up stale bread, you can skip the toasting part if you want to. But, if you have fresh bread, you're going to want to toast it prior to adding it to the salad. This will crisp up those edges a bit, helping the bread withstand tomato juice and dressing.
- If possible, use the freshest ingredients you can find. When it comes to simple recipes like a BLT sandwich or BLT panzanella, the quality of ingredients is the difference between 'fine' and HOLY CRAP that is the best thing I've ever eaten in my life. So, if you have access to fresh produce from your garden, a CSA, a local farmers market, or anything of the sort, use that!
With those tips in mind, all you have to do from there is some simple prep and combining of ingredients, like so:
- Chop, salt, and chill tomatoes
- Toast bread (if needed)
- Cook bacon and chop into bite size pieces
- Dice red onion, chop basil and lettuce
- Shake up some olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, and honey in a mason jar (with salt & pepper, to taste)
Combine all that into a large bowl, and chill for a bit before serving so the ingredients can marinate in some of that tomato juice and vinaigrette.
And then? Eat all the bacon and summer tomatoes and be happy.
P.S. I would definitely eat this for breakfast.Print
A simple Italian bread salad inspired by the classic sandwich, this BLT panzanella celebrates summer produce. It works as a side or main dish salad, and is a tasty alternative to pasta salad!
- Prep Time: 15
- Cook Time: 30
- Total Time: 45 minutes
- Yield: ~4 servings
- Category: Salad
- Method: Combine
- Cuisine: Italian
- 4-5 cups tomatoes, chopped
- ½ tsp salt
- 4-5 cups cubed bread
- 8 oz. package of bacon
- ½ red onion
- ½ head romaine lettuce (or other head lettuce)
- ⅓ cup fresh basil
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1-2 teaspoon honey (adjust to taste)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Toast the bread: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss cubes in some olive oil and sprinkle with a bit of salt. Spread onto a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, or until edges have crisped up. Once done, transfer the toasted bread cubes from the baking sheet into a large bowl to cool.
- Prep the veggies: Toss together tomatoes and salt in a large bowl and place, covered, in fridge while preparing other ingredients. Dice red onion and chop the fresh basil and romaine. Place fresh veggies (except tomatoes) in a large bowl.
- Cook the bacon: Using the same baking sheet that you used for the bread cubes, place bacon strips next to each other and bake for 20 minutes or to your desired crispiness. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before chopping into bite size pieces.
- Make the dressing: In a mason jar, combine olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, and a small pinch each of salt and pepper. Shake vigorously until thoroughly combined. Taste and adjust ingredients to your preference.
- Assemble! Combine all prepared ingredients into the large bowl with the onion, lettuce, and basil. Cover toss with dressing. Allow to chill in the fridge before serving.
*You can cook the bacon however you want! I chose to use the oven because it's a little less messy, and I already had it preheated from toasting the bread cubes. If you have multiple sheet pans and want to cook them simultaneously, you could do that too.
*To avoid cooking anything at all, use stale bread and pre-cooked bacon (still look for sustainably sourced bacon with clean ingredients, i.e. uncured, no chemical additives or antibiotics, humanely raised if possible).
Keywords: BLT panzanella, Italian bread salad, how to make panzanella, panzanella tips