It's summer, and I'm sure I'm not the only one craving easy, light dinners that come together quickly. If that's you as well, allow me to introduce you to the panzanella salad! While you can serve it as a side dish or potluck salad, it's great as a full meal on a hot summer night.
Think my family liked it? Let's find out!
What Is Panzanella?
Panzanella is a classic Italian salad made with stale bread, dressing, and chopped vegetables. It can be incredibly simple or more complex. I've had versions made with only bread, very ripe tomatoes, and basil, but you can add other pantry staples like capers to it.
This version of panzanella counts as a full meal because of the chicken and all the vegetables. It's what might happen if a tornado hit a sandwich and turned it into a salad!
Take Advantage of Rotisserie Chicken
You can definitely roast your own chicken for this if you want (if you do, be sure to reserve some drippings from the roast chicken to add them to the bread). But on a hot summer day, I don't love the idea of turning my oven on for 90 minutes, so I like to use a rotisserie chicken from the deli.
Rotisserie chicken shreds easily, and there are usually enough drippings to add to the bread. If you don't have enough drippings, drizzle the bread with a little chicken stock. I prefer a mix of white and dark chicken meat, but use what you like!
The Best Kind of Bread for Panzanella Salad
Panzanella salad is meant to be a way to use up leftover bread, so you can use pretty much anything! I like something crunchy with a nice crust on it—a good sourdough bread, French loaf, or baguette works really well here.
I'd avoid super soft bread, like your basic white sandwich bread. It will get too soggy.
And if you don’t have any stale bread, that's okay. Just tear some bread into pieces and toast in the oven until they're crispy and slightly browned (about 10 minutes at 400 ̊F).
What to Serve With Panzanella
This is a full meal in the summer, but it can also work as a side dish. If you serve it as a side dish with something grilled like steak, just leave out the chicken.
This salad improves if you let it sit in the fridge for a bit, so feel free to make it a day or so in advance. It keeps well! After a few days, though, the herbs start to wilt, and the salad gets too soggy. So make it; eat it within a day or two, and you'll be in for a treat!
The Dad Add: Blistered Peppers
Blistered peppers! This salad has awesome, fresh summer flavors, but blistered peppers add something extra. I use shishito peppers or mini sweet peppers. Add them to a skillet with a little oil, and then char on one side. When they come out of the skillet, season them with salt, and then chop and serve them with the salad.
The Kid Report Card
My kids are not salad kids. They are generally good eaters but aren't quite at the point where they will tear into a full salad. BUT! This salad was a great summer meal for them. It has familiar flavors that are approachable for kids, and the salad lends itself to a perfect dad joke. ("Oops! Dad put the bread in the salad!")
Not only did my kids think my joke was funny, but they also loved the salad overall. My daughter focused on the chicken and tomatoes, while my son (who doesn't love tomatoes) ate the bread, chicken, and cucumbers.
All in all, a win for a quick summer salad dinner!
More Quick and Easy Summer Meals!
- Steamed Mussels in Tomato Sauce
- Sweet Corn and Goat Cheese Quesadillas
- Thai Noodle Salad with Peanut Sauce
- Skillet Shrimp Fajitas
- Easy Chinese Chicken Salad with Chow Mein Noodles
Chicken Panzanella Salad
- 5 cups torn bread pieces
- 1/4 cup chicken drippings or chicken stock
- 4 cups shredded chicken
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 1 medium cucumber, sliced
- 1/2 small red onion, sliced thin
- 1/4 cup basil, torn
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- Coarse salt
- DAD ADD: Blistered Mini Sweet Peppers
- 6 to 8 mini sweet peppers or shishito peppers
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- Coarse salt
Toast the bread:
If you have very stale, crunchy bread, you don't need to toast your bread. Just tear it into pieces. If you are using fairly fresh bread, spread the pieces out on a baking sheet in a single layer, then toast at 400 ̊F for about 10 minutes.
Dress the bread:
When the bread is toasted, spread the pieces on a large serving platter in a single layer or close to it. Drizzle with chicken drippings or chicken stock.
Assemble the salad:
Spread the shredded chicken evenly over the bread. Do the same with the tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, and basil. Drizzle the whole salad with the extra virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar, and sprinkle with coarse salt.
Make the blistered peppers (DAD ADD, optional):
In a small or medium skillet, add a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat. Add the peppers and let sit, untouched, for 3-4 minutes or until the peppers start to blister. Then turn them all over and let them blister on the other side for a few minutes. Remove the peppers from the skillet and sprinkle with coarse salt. Chop and serve on top of the panzanella salad!
Salad leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to 2 days.