Panzanella is Italian for “bread salad,” and there’s nothing wrong with that! Swap out a few of the traditional ingredients with their better-tasting contemporaries and things are looking too good to be true.
There’s just about nothing better than a simple arugula salad. Crunchy, peppery greens are cut with lots of sour lemon juice, grassy olive oil and flaky Maldon salt. It’s my favorite lazy side dish – the perfect accompaniment to just about anything I tend to cook.
Heirloom tomatoes are summer’s candy. The heavy, gnarled fruits are literally bursting at the seams with juice, the ultra-thin membrane just thick enough to contain the outrageous flavor within. They’re good enough to eat like a peach – standing over the kitchen sink with the juices running down your wrist.
There’s almost no feeling more satisfying than that which is experienced upon piercing a shimmering, delicate ball of burrata cheese. The stringy, salty outer layer contains light, unbelievably creamy curdles of nearly liquefied mozzarella. If eating an entire ball is sinful, I hope they have burrata in hell.
I’ll never forget the pungent, porky smell of my neighborhood grocery store in Italy, where entire legs of cured pig dangled from the ceiling. Prosciutto is a delicacy both bold and versatile – thinly sliced, fat-laced pieces drape gracefully on a cheese plate but a quick pan-fry brings out smoky, salty notes and crumble without hesitation for a crunchy finish on any dish.
The transformation that flour, yeast and water undergo to create bread is both magical and mysterious. A fresh baked loaf of thick-crusted, fluffy sourdough or ciabatta needs no dressing up and is perhaps best eaten torn with nothing added (though a smear of butter never hurts). Though the half-life of this euphoria is short – as soon as it’s out of the oven it begins to go stale – a toss in olive oil over a hot stove breathes new life. Fresh croutons bring out the best in bread – its crater-like crumb allowing oil to moisten the inside and crisp up the outside.
Separately, these foods reach unparalleled heights of perfection – obvious winners in their own categories. Each ingredient is self sufficient, needing no accouterments to bring out their best. Typically, ingredients like this are attention hogs – they need to be the stars of the dish they’re a part of – the flavor centerpiece that the rest of the meal is built around.
It seems sacrilegious, almost, to take that away from them. But together, these ambrosial ingredients create a powerhouse of flavor and texture that is so complete and diverse that there’s no turning back. The impossibly creamy cheese cuts the acidic tomatoes. That indulgent, velvety burrata is challenged by salty, crunchy prosciutto and crispy, jumbo croutons soak up every flavor without giving way to the juiciness surrounding them. Last but not least, arugula gives a burst of verdancy that keeps the whole thing tasting fresh.
This Summer Panzanella is the kind of dish that arouses and challenges the taste buds – rock star flavors enhance one another without losing their own identities, resulting in an experience that’s at once encompassing, indulgent, and seasonal.
Ingredients (serves 2-4)
2 cups arugula
1 ball burrata
2 cups day-old bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large heirloom tomato or 2 handfuls heirloom cherry tomatoes
4 slices prosciutto
Flaky sea salt
Heat a non-stick skillet. Lay the prosciutto pieces flat in the skillet and flip once or twice until slightly shriveled. Set aside to cool. Once cooled, chop into bite size pieces.
Make the croutons. Add a few glugs of olive oil to the skillet. Once hot, add the bread pieces and toss to coat. Continue turning until bread is toasted on all sides and still soft in the center.
Chop the tomato into bite size pieces. Add to a large serving bowl with arugula and croutons.
Cut the burrata into pieces. Don’t worry if it’s gooey!
Add burrata to the serving bowl and toss with a some olive oil and sea salt. Top with crumbled prosciutto and serve!