Sarah said that she wanted to cook dinner at least once while she was visiting. I agreed. Who wouldn’t want an award-winning chef cooking in the kitchen. The limit set for the adventure was that it had to follow her High protein/low carb regimen. The other thing was that I didn’t want to go to the store again, so she decided to use what was in the pantry and the refrigerator.
She chose to make chicken panzanella. I reminded her that the dish referred to a traditional Italian bread salad. She said, “Just don’t eat the bread.” Point made.
I have not been too specific about quantities except for the chicken breasts – we only had two – and the bread – we had already started eating a pound-and-a-half loaf. Adjust the quantities of the various other ingredients to your particular likes and to the size of the group you plan to serve.
Some of the keys to success include making certain that the bread cubes are completely dried out and firm. Otherwise, they will absorb too much of the juice from the vegetables and wind up being soggy. The seedless grapes are a surprise: they make a sweet foil for the other acidic and bitter components of the salad. The avocado is also not a usual ingredient in a traditional Panzanella, but it makes a tasty addition. You can add more lettuce, but it might overwhelm the other flavors of the salad. You can use your favorite vinaigrette, but simple oil and vinegar allow you to adjust the acidity just as you prefer.
Chicken breasts marinating in buttermilk/yogurt with scallions
Marinated chicken breasts ready for sauteing
Chicken on the grill
Grilled marinated chicken breasts
Bread cubes drying completely in a 250°F oven
Peppers lightly sauteed
Ingredients ready for assembly
Selection of herbs from the garden
Ready to serve
Assembled chicken panzanella
Served up on a backyard table
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- Greek yogurt
- scallions, chopped coarsely
- 1 pound (2/3 loaf) farm-style bread, (Sage Bakehouse), cut into ¾-inch cubes, crust on
- extra virgin olive oil
- snacking peppers, seeded, coarsely chopped, and lightly sautéed so that they are still crunchy
- butter lettuce (about 1/3 head)
- cherry tomatoes, halved
- snacking cucumbers, peeled and cut into ½ inch circles
- red seedless grapes, halved
- avocado, diced
- fresh garden herbs (parsley, mint, oregano, tarragon)
- white wine vinegar
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- Marinate the chicken breasts for 2 hours in a mixture of equal parts of buttermilk and Greek yogurt with sliced scallions. Turn frequently.
- While the chicken breasts are marinating, toss the bread cubes with olive oil and salt, and dry in a 250°F oven until they are completely dry. Set aside.
- Lightly sauté the peppers in a hot skillet until they are slightly wilted, but still crisp.
- Wash, dry, and cut the lettuce into bite-sized pieces. Prepare the tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes and avocado. Wash the herbs, remove the leaves from the stems, and chop finely. Set everything aside.
- Drain extra marinade from the chicken breasts and grill over a hot flame until the chicken is cooked through and the marinade has turned into a golden glaze. Let the grilled chicken rest for 5 minutes, and then cut into ½ inch cubes.
- In a large serving bowl, combine the chicken, bread cubes, peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, avocado, and herbs. Dress with white wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil to taste. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Let sit for 30 minutes to allow the bread to absorb some of the juices from the vegetables. Serve.
It’s summer, and the perfect time for a refreshing salad. In our family, recipes for panzanella, the traditional Italian bread salad, are currently all over the place. Sarah and Evan made a version for their cooking demonstrations in Shreveport that included pork from their pig-butchering demonstration. Now they have a recipe in the July issue of Food and Wine (pages 172-173) for a version that uses rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and fresh strawberries. Carol in Los Angeles made her recipe for us during our recent visit there. Hers was a more classic rendition that was equally delicious and went well with barbecued pork ribs.
Here is my spin. It contains Romaine lettuce and salmon, which are not included in traditional recipes, but I think they add to the flavors. I know, I know -salmon doesn’t even sound Italian, but Marcella Hazan has two salmon recipes and a commentary in her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1992). I felt justified in using salmon. Try to use wild-caught fish if you can, but farmed salmon will also work. If you don’t like salmon, then shrimp or shell fish would probably also be tasty.
As well, don’t even bother trying the recipe if you don’t have a good quality artisanal rustic loaf of bread, or the end result will be a limp dough ball. The bread in this recipe was the farm loaf from a wonderful local artisanal bakery, Sage Bakehouse.
Artisanal bread cut into 1 inch cubes
Using a mortar and pestle to make a paste of garlic, anchovy fillets and capers
Santa Fe Grande peppers
Thinly-sliced red onion
Ready to serve
- 4-6 ounces salmon fillet, pin bones removed
- fish stock, enough to cover salmon
- ½ cup coarsely chopped dill fronds
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 3 anchovy fillets, drained
- 1 tablespoon capers, drained
- 1 large Santa Fe Grande pepper, seeded and sliced into ¼ inch rings (any sweet yellow pepper may be substituted)
- ¼ cup + 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
- 1 small red onion
- 4 cups 1-inch bread cubes (4 1-inch slices of a good artisanal rustic loaf should yield about 4 cups. Remove crusts if you like)
- 3 large, ripe tomatoes
- 2 small snacking cucumbers cut into ½ inch rounds
- 1 Romaine heart washed and torn into bite-sized pieces
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a saucepan large enough to hold the salmon, bring the fish stock to the boil, and then reduce to simmer. Add the prepared salmon and poach for 5 minutes or until cooked through, turning once. Remove the salmon to a plate to cool
- Remove the skin from the cooled salmon, and with a fork, pull the fish into bite-sized pieces. Place in a covered dish, salt to taste, and add the chopped dill. Chill in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to add to the salad.
- Using a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic, anchovies, and capers into a coarse paste. Transfer to a small bowl and add the pepper rings along with ¼ cup of olive oil and the vinegars. Mix well and let stand at room temperature until ready to assemble the salad.
- Slice the red onion into rounds, preferably suing a mandoline, and place in ice water until ready to be drained and added to the salad.
- On a small rimmed baking sheet, drizzle the bread cubes with the remaining olive oil, and place in the middle of an oven preheated to 350° F. Toast for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. When the bread cubes are lightly browned, remove from the oven to cool.
- Place the bread cubes in your serving bowl. Cut one of the tomatoes into large chunks and squeeze over the bread, using a food mill to release the juice and bits of pulp, leaving skins and seeds behind. Stir the bread cubes so they absorb the juices and let stand for 10 minutes. (Actually, I used a potato ricer, which is much easier to clean than my food mill)
- Blanch the remaining 2 tomatoes in boiling water for 10 seconds. Cool, peel, seed, and cut into ½ inch chunks.
- Assemble the salad by adding the peppers and their marinade, drained red onion, tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce to the bowl of bread cubes. Gently stir in the salmon and chopped dill. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if needed. Toss and serve immediately.