It’s taken over three months for me to fully settle into my apartment, but I feel like I’m finally getting somewhere with it. A lot of things have prevented me from doing this in a more timely fashion, the biggest being the neuropathy that has literally flipped my life inside out. Constant, persistent, sometimes debilitating pain can make it hard to get even the simplest tasks accomplished.
The good news is that said tasks can be done; they just take a little more time and patience (which, I’ll admit, I do not always possess). Except for a half dozen boxes and the pictures that still need to be put up, I’ve made enough progress with it that it now looks more like a home than a warehouse. That alone is reason enough to celebrate, so I finally had a small housewarming party over the weekend.
The celebration was twofold actually: I had my cute little apartment to show off and I had a sponsored dinner party to throw that night. Since I’m the type that feels guilty not offering guests something on which to nibble no matter how casual the gathering, I figured this would be a great way to multitask: I’d have some awesome folks over and they’d eat like kings & queens!
I’ll be posting the recap of the dinner party later this week, but I just couldn’t wait to share the recipe to one of the dishes I whipped up for the occasion. It’s fresh, seasonal, lovely to look at, and so friggin’ good I’ve had it for dinner three nights in a row. And it brings out the cultural anthropologist in me.
Panzanella, an Italian bread salad popular in the summer, is one of those dishes that makes me appreciate how other cultures make the most out of very little. Rather than throw out precious food because it’s not perfect, people have simply figured out different ways to use what they had on hand, often times with delicious results.
And that’s exactly what I try to do on PGEW.
This particular dish is pretty much a rescue mission for those last bits of bread that have gone too hard and stale to enjoy on their own.
Traditionally, the bread is soaked in water & squeezed dry, then it’s tossed together with simple, yet delicious ingredients like tomatoes, onions, basil, olive oil & vinegar. A little sprinkle of salt & pepper later and presto! Tough bread is now a lovely salad.
I thought it would be nice to do something a little different for my version of panzanella. Rather than soaking stale bread (which I didn’t have on hand), I pan-grilled mine with some olive oil. It gave the bread a nice golden color and a special flavor & texture. And since I’ve been having a lot of fun using strawberries in place of tomatoes in things like salads and salsas, I thought it would be fun to do so here as well. They offer the same vibrant red hue that’s peppered throughout the salad, only with a surprisingly sweet kick.
With crisp spring greens, some gruyere I scored at Grocery Outlet (of all places!), and a homemade strawberry-balsamic vinaigrette, this salad is a definite departure from traditional panzanella, but every bit as delightful. It’s fabulous as an entree salad or as part of a larger spread for summer potlucks or the occasional housewarming party (where it was an absolute hit). Let’s check out the recipe!
Strawberry Panzanella Salad (makes 6-8 servings; total cost per serving: $1.75)
For the salad
1/2 loaf of French bread, cut into 1″ cubes (about 5 cups)
2-3 T olive oil
1 1/2 c sliced fresh strawberries
3 c spring mix
1/3 c shaved gruyere
Salt & pepper to taste
For the strawberry-balsamic vinaigrette:
1/4 c olive oil
1/4 c balsamic vinegar
1/2 c sliced fresh strawberries
1 T honey
Dash of salt & pepper
1. Prepare the dressing. Combine all dressing ingredients in a blender & puree until smooth. Cover & set aside.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet or saute pan, then add the bread and a dash of salt & pepper. Cook over medium low heat for about 10 minutes or until golden brown, tossing the bread frequently to avoid burning. Add more olive oil through the cooking process as needed.
3. In a large bowl, combine the strawberries, bread and spring mix. Drizzle about half of the vinaigrette onto the salad, sprinkle with salt & pepper, and toss everything together gently. Cover and set aside for about 30 minutes.
4. When ready to serve, toss in the gruyere cheese, serve with extra dressing on the side, and enjoy!