I’m always looking for an excuse to grab more tomatoes at the farmers market during the summer—and this twist on a classic panzanella fits the bill perfectly. It’s loaded with the juiciest, most colorful heirloom tomatoes, plus creamy burrata, lots of fresh basil, and a homemade garlicky-mustardy vinaigrette. How could you not be obsessed?
And because I’m never one to keep things traditional when it comes to Panzanella (I’ve made so many variations), I swapped in pan-fried polenta for the typical crouton. This is seriously genius, and it’s so easy to make. All you do is cut the store-bought polenta into one-inch rectangles, and fry it in a cast iron skillet until it’s browned on all sides. The result is this super crispy, slightly chewy “crouton” that soaks up all the juices from the tomatoes and vinaigrette. Trust me, once you use polenta in your Panzanella, you’ll never go back!
What Is Polenta?
Polenta is a popular Italian staple that’s usually made from dried corn. It has a pretty neutral taste, which means its great for soaking up other ingredients like butter, oil, and cheese. You can make polenta from scratch (just transfer it to a container and let it chill in the fridge before slicing), or you can buy it pre-cooked in tubes at the grocery store. I use the tubed polenta in this recipe because it cuts down on time, and you can easily slice it into cubes for the croutons.
A Smart Trick for Making Your Tomatoes Taste Even Better
The trick to making your tomatoes taste even more incredible is to salt them ahead of time! Salt draws out the water from tomatoes, which makes your tomatoes taste more tomato-y. I like salting my tomatoes and letting them sit in a colander for 30 minutes before I make the rest of the salad—I stir them about every 10 minutes to help release the juices.
My Make-Ahead Tip
If you’re making this for a crowd and want to prep ahead, you could fry up the polenta in the morning, and then add it to the salad right before serving.
Need More Summer Salad Ideas? Here's a Few!
Fried Polenta Panzanella with Tomato, Basil, and Burrata
- 4 pounds mixed heirloom tomatoes (make sure they are very ripe!), cored and cut into 1-inch wedges
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 2 pounds store-bought prepared polenta
- 1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 bunch basil leaves, divided (half of the basil leaves should be torn and half left whole)
- 8 ounces burrata, torn into pieces
- Flaky salt, to taste
Season and drain the tomatoes:
Place a colander in a large bowl, then add tomatoes to the colander and toss with 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Set aside at room temperature to allow the tomatoes to drain, stirring every 10 minutes, for 30 minutes total.
Prep the polenta:
Store bought polenta usually comes in tubes. For attractive rectangles, trim the edges to square the polenta off before slicing into 1-inch rectangles. Discard the scraps.
Fry the polenta:
Meanwhile, fry the polenta. In a large skillet over medium heat, warm 4 tablespoons of olive oil. In batches, sear the polenta until golden brown on all sides and tender in the center, about 6 minutes total. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate and sprinkle lightly with kosher salt, to taste. Set aside to cool.
Make the dressing:
Remove the colander from the bowl and set it in the sink.
Keep the accumulated tomato juices in the bowl. Add the shallot, garlic, mustard, and balsamic. Allow to sit for 5 minutes. Then, slowly pour in the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil while whisking constantly. Season to taste with kosher salt and pepper.
Mix the panzanella:
Right before serving, add the tomatoes, polenta, and torn basil into the bowl with the dressing. Toss to combine.
Transfer to a serving platter, top with burrata, and serve:
Use a large spoon to transfer to a serving platter. There will be residual liquid, dress as desired. Top panzanella with burrata. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with flaky salt and a few grinds of freshly cracked black pepper.
Garnish with whole basil leaves. Serve.
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