Watermelon Panzanella Recipe (Summer Salad)
Panzanella originates from Florence, probably the most famous city in Tuscany. I spent a couple of vacations in this beautiful city as a teenager and I can clearly remember the freshness of the dish. This salad is typically made of soaked stale bread with tomatoes and other flavorings. I haven't been able to find any fully ripe tomatoes at my local market yet, so I replaced them with juicy watermelon.
I kept the panzanella salad strictly vegetarian, mixing vegetables with steamed lentils. For added flavors, you could add shredded tuna, anchovies or boiled eggs.
Yields: 8 servings½ (16-ounce) day-old green onion slab bread
3 cups watermelon
1 carrot, shredded
1 Persian cucumber, peeled and cubed
3 tablespoons roasted red bell peppers, thinly sliced
3/4 cup packed steamed French lentils, separated
1 cup button mushrooms
6 ounces Nabulsi cheese, cubed
6 cornichons (or pickles), sliced into quarters
4 marinated artichoke hearts, coarsely chopped
¼ cup orange Muscat champagne vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
¼ cup fresh dill, chopped
¼ cup avocado oil (or olive oil)
Prepping the bread:
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Cut the bread into about 1-inch cubes. No need to cut off the crusts. Spread the bread cubes on a greased baking sheet. Drizzle with a few tablespoons of oil. Season with salt and pepper. Toss well.
Bake for about 6-8 minutes. Toss the croutons once half-way through the baking process. All sides should be slightly golden. Remove from the oven. Cool the croutons. Set aside.
Soaking the bread: Cut the watermelon into cubes. Gather the watermelon with its juice (the more juice the better) in a large mixing bowl. Add the bread, lentils and chopped dill. Toss well. The watermelon will slightly moisten the bread. Set aside for about 20-30 minutes.
Prepping the mushrooms: Prepare the mushrooms. This step is optional but I usually peel the thin outer "skin" on the "hat" of button mushrooms, using a paring knife. Using the same paring knife, slice them.
Prepping the avocado: Peel the avocado, remove the pit and cut into cubes.
Pickling the vegetables: In a bowl, combine the vinegar, avocado oil, salt and pepper. Add the mushrooms, avocado (this will prevent it from darkening), shredded carrots, Nabulsi cheese, cornichons and artichoke hearts. Toss well. Chill in the refrigerator until you're ready to serve.
Assembly time: In a large serving bowl, combine the watermelon, bread, pickled vegetable mixture and cubed cucumbers (they add a crunchy texture to the salad). Adjust seasoning.
I used Acme brand green onion slab bread. It's very flavorful, moist and delicious. You can find it at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. The address is Marketplace Shop #15. You can also find this particular bread at Costco and Milk Pail, 2585 California Street, Mountain View, CA 94040.
You can find cornichons at Trader Joe's. They're small, crisp, tart French pickles made from tiny gherkin cucumbers. If you don't have any, you could replace them with any briny ingredients such as regular pickles or even capers.
You don't have to use champagne vinegar (you can find it at Trader Joe's) but for the aesthetic of the dish, a white vinegar (or lemon juice) is preferable.
I used store-bought steamed black lentils from Trader Joe's.
I used store-bought Mezzetta brand roasted red bell peppers and artichoke hearts.Published By: on June 20, 2011.