Let me say this right away, in case you start reading the paragraphs below and stop before getting to the bottom thinking I disliked this roasted pepper panzanella. It’s terrific. I can’t conceive of anyone not liking it. You should make it right away, because it’s fast and easy, doesn’t require much cooking, is way different from your average salad, plus this is the season for sweet bell peppers.
As I’ve mentioned before, one of the great things about having a blog is it pushes me to try things I wouldn’t normally choose to make. Joshua McFadden’s Roasted Pepper Panzanella was one of those things.
I confess, I’ve never really understood why people get excited about panzanella (aka bread salad). I love bread, I like salad, and I get the rationale behind putting stale bread in salad, but making and/or eating panzanella has never been an ambition of mine. This is likely because I’ve never understood why you would make croutons out of perfectly good bread when you could eat your salad with a slice of bread on the side.
So, it was with some very low expectations that I approached making this roasted pepper panzanella. It required crouton-ing delicious bread and called for raw onion, which I normally dislike. My expectations dropped even more when I noticed the recipe instructs you to broil the bell peppers, then once their done, drop the heat to 400 F. And never use the oven for anything else…
The first time making this, there were some stumbling blocks. You need to char the sweet bell peppers in order to roast them, and I did this close to when I was planning to serve the salad because that’s when the grill was hot (we were cooking something after). Joshua says they need to sit about 15 minutes to steam after roasting, to let the flesh soften completely and enable easy peeling of the skins. I should have known, but the recipe didn’t adequately forewarn me of the fact that the peppers would still be incredibly hot after 15 minutes of steaming. Especially on the inside, where juices have collected and pesky seeds want to remain. You should broil or grill or otherwise roast your whole peppers far enough ahead of time that you aren’t burning your fingers trying to finish dinner. Alternatively, you could simply deseed and slice the peppers into wide sections, toss the sections with olive oil, salt and pepper, and then roast them. They won’t be quite as soft and juicy and sweet as a whole roasted pepper, but they’ll still be great and it requires less planning ahead.
The next trouble I had was with the torn croutons. Joshua’s recipe for torn croutons, on a different page way at the front of the book (I hate bouncing around for subrecipes), specifies 2 thick slices of “country loaf”. The bread we had was a country-style sandwich bread, which despite crouton-ing, turned completely to mush in the salad. The bread you want to use is from a hearty, somewhat dense, not overly processed country-style boule or sourdough or farm-style loaf. And you’ll want to cut thick slices of it.
Lastly, the amount of olive oil drowned out the oregano, mint, chile flakes, and red wine vinegar. Overall, I wasn’t blown away with panzanella version one. It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t think it was nearly as exciting as it could be. I’m pretty sure the rest of the table agreed with me, although they were pretty polite about it.
Luckily, my parents are good sports, so I asked to retest this recipe when I went up last weekend. I used a hearty “baker’s choice” wheat-blend foccacia for the croutons, pre-sliced the bell peppers before charring them on the grill with olive oil, salt and pepper, and drizzled only a little olive oil on top of the salad. Roasted pepper panzanella version two was fabulous. Leagues better than my first attempt and something I would happily eat again.
Avoid the temptation to leave out things like the red onion and the herbs. The raw red onion helped to balance the flavors and added some crunch without being overpowering, which was a happy discovery. The mint and oregano add much needed brightness and freshness to a salad that is quite rich and hearty. The amount of chile flake is pretty minimal, and if you like things spicier, you could certainly up the amount.
On the other hand, if you don’t eat meat, feel free to leave out the salami. If you’re making this salad and planning to serve it later (for lunch the following day, at a potluck/picnic/block party), reserve the croutons and cheese in separate containers, assembling the rest of the salad ingredients, and combine them 15-30 minutes before serving.
Have you made it through my long-winded discussion of tested recipe number one from Six Seasons?
Adapted from Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables
Roasted Pepper Panzanella
A fabulously simple, delicious salad for the end of summer.
- 4 large (2 lbs) sweet bell peppers red or orange
- 4 thick slices country-style bread
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon dried chile flakes
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 1 tablespoon other savory herb (or more oregano)
- 1/2 cup lightly packed mint leaves
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 3-4 grinds fresh black pepper
- 1/2 small red onion minced
- 2 cloves garlic grated or finely minced
- 2-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3-4 ounces spicy salami (like soppressata) thinly sliced then roughly chopped
- 4-6 ounces fresh mozzarella, preferrably buffalo-style torn or sliced into pieces
Turn your oven to a low broil or pre-heat your grill to a moderate heat. Broil or grill the whole peppers, turning every 3-5 minutes, until blackened and charred on all sides. Set peppers aside in a large bowl, covered with a kitchen towel, for at least 15 minutes to let them fully soften and begin cooling.
Heat the oven to 400 F. Tear the bread (including the crust), into bite-sized pieces. Toss with the olive oil, 5-6 grinds of fresh black pepper, and two pinches of Kosher salt.
Spread the prepared bread pieces into a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake until golden brown around the edges, stirring every 4-5 minutes and rotating pieces from middle to pan edge for even cooking. This should take 10-20 minutes, depending on your bread choice. Your goal is a crouton with a little bit of chewiness remaining, not rock hard pieces. Spread the toasted croutons out onto paper towels to absorb any extra oil.
Once the roasted peppers are cool enough to handle peel the blackened skin, remove the green caps and seeds, and cut them into 1-inch wide strips, then further into bite-sized pieces.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sliced roasted peppers, red wine vinegar, chile flakes, oregano, other savory herb (or more oregano), 1/2 the mint, salt, and black pepper. Mince the red onion and garlic, then add them to the bowl.
Add the 2-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (depending on your personal preference; I used 2 tablespoons) and toss everything together.
Slice and then roughly chop the salami. Add the chopped salami and the prepared croutons to the large bowl and toss everything together to combine. Let rest for 15-30 minutes, enabling the salad to come together into a cohesive dish as the pepper juices to soak through the other ingredients.
Transfer the salad to a serving bowl. Scatter the mozzarella pieces on top, then the remaining mint. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.
If you don't heavily dress this salad with olive oil and if you use a hearty bread, any leftovers of this salad will keep for one to two days in the fridge.