Homemade croutons are a delicacy in my house. They are crisp and fresh with a nutty olive oil flavor and dangerously snackable while preparing. My two favorite ways to use them are for a homemade Caesar salad and in the summer, panzanella salad.
Panzanella salad combines crunchy toasted croutons with crisp chopped vegetables. The juicy tomatoes and herbaceous vinaigrette soak into the croutons and is one of my favorite summer salads!
In this recipe, I used day old French baguettes that I chopped into bite sized pieces and toasted in the oven with olive oil, sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. I actually make my own quick French baguettes after seeing how easy it is. You can find my favorite recipe here and I highly recommend this baguette pan for a crisp crust and uniform shape.
For the vinaigrette, I whisked together fresh lemon juice with champagne vinegar (easily interchangeable with a white balsamic or white/red wine vinegar), dijon mustard, salt and pepper and fresh herbs. I snipped a couple tablespoons of rosemary, oregano and parsley from my little raised garden.
Extra virgin olive oil is then added to the dressing to create and emulsion. An emulsion is what hold a salad dressing together to it doesn’t separate into a layer of oil and a layer of vinegar. To make an emulsion, I whisk my vinegar/herb mixture continually while pouring a slow steady stream of olive oil in. The extra minute of creating an emulsified salad dressing is worth it because it yields a smooth vinaigrette.
For the salad, I chop all the vegetables, except the onion, into bite sized pieces. I like to finely chop the onion so it isn’t as strong (and so my kids will eat it!). Fresh basil is then tossed with the vegetables along with the vinaigrette. At this point the salad can be stored in the fridge until ready to serve. When ready to serve, I toss in the croutons. You want the croutons to absorb all the dressing, but it’s important to wait until serving or you’ll have soggy bread.
The vinaigrette makes enough to where you may have extra. I like to add in about 1/2 of the vinaigrette with the vegetables and once I add the bread adjust if needed. You may have extra, which is just a bonus because it’s a delicious salad dressing for another day!
I served this salad with my tuscan grilled chicken with lemon, rosemary and garlic, but it’s great as a side dish with many summer meals. If you frequent a summer farmer’s market, you could pick up the produce, herbs and bread for this recipe. If you have a garden bursting with summer vegetables and herbs, you’ll love gathering the ingredients to make this salad without having to go to the store.
Summer Panzanella Salad with Fresh Herb Vinaigrette and Salt + Pepper Croutons
For the croutons:
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 baguette, cubed (about 6 cups)
- Sea salt
- Fresh cracked pepper
For the vinaigrette:
- 1/2 tsp garlic, grated or minced
- 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 2 tbsp champagne vinegar
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1-2 tbsp fresh minced herbs (ie. oregano, parsley and rosemary)
For the salad:
- 1 pound any variety tomatoes, chopped
- 1 orange bell pepper, chopped
- 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
- 6 baby cucumbers (or 1 whole cucumber), chopped
- 1/4 cup sweet (Vidalia) onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup basil leaves, thinly sliced
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (F). On a baking sheet, toss the bread cubes with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes to toast the bread. Remove from oven and set aside until ready to serve.
- For the salad, combine all the ingredients in a serving bowl.
- To make the vinaigrette, whisk together all the ingreients except the olive oil and fresh herbs. Very slowly, pour a steady stream of olive oil into the mixture while whisking vigorously. Once the oil is added, whisk in the fresh herbs. Add 1/2 the vinagirette to the salad. Add more vinagirette if needed or reserve for another use. Proceed to the next step, or if making ahead of time, place the salad in the fridge.
- When ready to serve, toss the salad with the croutons.