This gluten-free bread salad eats like a deconstructed caponata with grilled eggplant, ripe tomatoes, sweet-tart currants, and briny capers and olives, all wrapped up with toasted bread in a garlicky vinaigrette.
Bread salad sounds like an oxymoron, amiright? Salad should be green, light, and healthy, whereas hearty bread should be reserved for sandwiches, toast, or for dipping into soups. Croutons can go on top of salad, but the bread itself should not be the main salad event. It just seems wrong.
And yet, toss toasted bread cubes with ripe tomatoes and call it panzanella, and bread salad becomes the most divine summer meal. Crusty croutons sop up the juice from ripe tomatoes, the whole thing smacking of tangy vinaigrette. If bread salad is wrong, why does it taste so right?
Sarah and I made and styled the mother of all bread salads a couple of weeks ago, the iconic Zuni Cafe version from the late Judy Rodgers. I always describe Zuni as the Chez Panisse of San Francisco. Like Chez Panisse, it’s been around since the ’70’s serving up seasonal food from local sources, and the execution is always impeccable. Their bread salad, a tomato-less affair flavored with sauteed scallions, arugula, garlic, and currants plumped in red wine vinegar, comes as a side to their equally famous roasted chicken. But as Florence Fabricant notes, it’s good enough to eat on its own.
The day we made the salad, Sarah‘s mom, Sheri, was down from Chico watching baby Zoella while we bustled about in the kitchen. She put down the baby long enough to slice up a few homegrown tomatoes for a simple, stunning tomato salad. After the shoot, bread salad and tomatoes were my dinner, and served as a reminder of how good a classic panzanella can be.
Back at home the next day, I found a few tiny eggplants in the fridge from a farmer’s market in Grass Valley that I’d visited with Jessica, so I threw them on the grill pan and added them in. The tangy-sweet currants, roasted eggplant, and juicy tomatoes all reminded me of caponata (which Sarah just posted a crazy delicious version of, topped with burrata[!]) so I added some other Sicilian-inspired ingredients: olives, capers, and pine nuts. For extra oomph, we topped bowls of the summery salad with crumbled ricotta salata.
We made it again the next day.
This salad is perfect for parties and picnics as it keeps well. I like to use a crusty GF sourdough such as Bread Srsly (or a homemade sourdough I’ve been working on and hope to share soon, shown here) but I’m guessing that another GF white bread, such as Udi’s, would work well, too. Or if gluten is a non-issue, use a crusty country loaf such as a levain instead. And feel free to gussy things up with roasted peppers, zucchini, or arugula if you like.
Bread. Salad. Previously:
- Donut Peach Panzanella with Arugula, Ricotta Salata, and Tarragon
- Watermelon Jicama Salad with Cotija, Cumin and Lime
- Cucumber Melon Caprese Salad
- 2 tablespoons (15 g) dried currants
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons boiling water
- 1 pound (450 g) eggplant (about 5 asian eggplants, or 1-2 globe eggplants)
- 8 tablespoons (120 ml) extra virgin olive oil, divided
- salt and coarsely ground black pepper
- 10 ounces hearty white-ish bread, such as Bread Srsly Gluten-Free Sourdough, crusts removed if very hard, sliced thickly and torn into 1-2” chunks (4 cups)
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar, more to taste
- 2 medium garlic cloves, put through a garlic press or minced
- 3-4 medium-sized ripe tomatoes (400 g), cut into chunks
- ¾ cup (100 g) pitted Castelvetrano olives, halved
- 3 tablespoons (25 g) pine nuts, lightly toasted
- Big handful basil leaves, torn
- 1 tablespoon (10 g) capers, drained
- 6-8 ounces (225 g) ricotta salata, feta, or mozzarella, for serving (optional)
- Place the currants in a small, heat-proof bowl and cover with the red wine vinegar and boiling water. Let stand while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400ºF.
- Preheat your grill or a stovetop grill pan, if using. Slice Asian eggplants diagonally into 1” thick rounds or cut globe eggplants into 2” chunks. Toss with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and a good sprinkle of salt. Grill (or spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast in the oven) until golden and tender, 5-10 minutes per side on the grill, or about 30 minutes in the oven, turning the eggplant pieces halfway through.
- Toss the bread cubes with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and a few pinches of salt. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until golden on a couple of sides, flipping the bread cubes once, 5-10 minutes per side. Place the toasted bread cubes in a large bowl.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the champagne vinegar, pressed garlic, ¼ cup of the olive oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and a few good turns of pepper. Toss the bread with 2 tablespoons of the dressing, then add the grilled or roasted eggplant, tomatoes, olives, pine nuts, basil, capers, and drained currants. Drizzle with the remaining dressing and gently toss to combine. Let stand 10-30 minutes; the bread will absorb moisture from the tomatoes and soften. If the salad is still dry, add 1-4 tablespoons hot water or vegetable stock. Taste, adding more salt and pepper if needed.
- Serve the salad right away, or cover and let stand at room temperature for up to 1 hour or refrigerate for up to several hours. Serve the panzanella topped with plenty of ricotta salata crumbles if desired.