Panzanella: A Blog-Worthy Salad

I made the same recipe two times this weekend and still found myself excited to serve up seconds on Sunday evening. That definitely makes this recipe for a Panzanella “bread salad” qualify as blog-worthy, don’t you think?? 😀

632 Panzanella Salad

According to Wikipedia, “Panzanella is a Tuscan salad of bread and tomatoes that’s popular in the summer. It includes chunks of soaked stale bread and tomatoes, sometimes also onions and basil, dressed with olive oil and vinegar.” According to my extended family, Panzanella is a tasty excuse to call toasted Italian bread soaked in dijon vinaigrette a “salad” and feel good about eating it. Just kidding… sort of. This bread salad is delicious, colorful, and easy to make and I have a feeling that we’re going to get many more requests for it at future family dinners!

When I bring Panzanella to a dinner party I do almost all of the work in advance. The vinaigrette can be made 1-2 days ahead of time and refrigerated in an airtight container, the veggies can be chopped and tossed together a few hours in advance, and the bread can be toasted 1-2 hours before dinner and stored in a ziploc bag. Making the salad then becomes a simple matter of tossing together the vinaigrette, veggies and bread about 20 minutes before dinner.

637 Panzanella Salad

Panzanella (from Ina Garten; serves 8-10)

Vinaigrette Ingredients
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 tablespoons Champagne Vinegar
1-2 teaspoons Minced Garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Salad Ingredients
1 Red Bell Pepper, seeded and cut into 1″ pieces
1 Yellow Bell Pepper, seeded and cut into 1″ pieces
1 Hothouse Cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeds removed and cut into 1/2″ slices
1/2 Red Onion, halved and cut into thin slices
3-4 Plum or Campari-sized Tomatoes, cut into 1″ pieces
3 tablespoons Capers, drained
20 Basil Leaves, sliced into 1/2″ strips
1 large Loaf of French or Italian Bread, cut into 1″ pieces
Olive Oil
Salt

Directions:
To make the vinaigrette, whisk all ingredients together in a bowl. Alternatively, combine all ingredients in a ball jar and shake vigorously. The vinaigrette can now be easily refrigerated or transported until it’s time to combine the salad.

Combine the peppers, cucumber, onion, tomatoes, capers and basil together in a large bowl.

Heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in large saute pan over medium heat. Add half the bread and approximately 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook the bread cubes, stirring and flipping occasionally, until the bread begins to toast and turn golden brown. Transfer the toasted bread to a plate to cool and repeat the cooking process with the remaining bread cubes.

To assemble the salad, combine the vinaigrette, vegetables, and toasted bread in a large serving bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. For best flavor, allow the finished salad to sit for approximately 20 minutes before serving… that will give the vinaigrette time to soak into the bread. 😀 Enjoy!

630 Panzanella Salad

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Grilled Shrimp Salad with Mediterranean Lemon Dressing

Matt and I are getting married in 2 days! All of our wedding prep is pretty much done and now we’re just relaxing and waiting for the weekend to get here. (Oh, and also checking the weather about a million times a day… Tropical Storm Andrea better hurry up and get out of here in time for our outdoor ceremony on Saturday afternoon!) 🙂

We’ve been going out to eat a lot lately but we did make one planned meal this week using a new cookbook that my mom got us as a wedding present. The book is entitled Salad for Dinner so, as you might guess, our meal was a nice and hearty entree salad! This was a fresh, summery meal that was perfect for the warm weather we had earlier this week. Doesn’t it look yummy?

Grilled Shrimp Salad with Lemon Mediterranean Dressing

Grilled Shrimp Salad with Mediterranean Lemon Dressing (from Salad for Dinner)

For the Mediterranean Lemon Dressing…
1 tablespoon Tahini (ground sesame seed paste)
2 cloves Garlic, pressed through a garlic press
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/4 cup freshly squeezed Lemon Juice
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

For the salad…
1 lb. large Shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1-2 cloves Garlic, pressed through a garlic press
8 oz. Mini Bell Peppers
8 cups Baby Spinach
1 pint Cherry Tomatoes, sliced in half
2-3 Persian Cucumbers, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
1/4 – 1/2 Red Onion, very thinly sliced
Feta Cheese, crumbled
Fresh Oregano Leaves
Lemon Wedges
Pita Bread Crisps*

Directions:
Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a jar. Close the lid and shake vigorously to combine. (You could also use a bowl and whisk the ingredients together if you don’t feel like shaking.) Refrigerate the dressing until you are ready to use it.

Mix together the shrimp, garlic and olive oil in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. After the shrimp has marinaded, remove from the fridge and stir in the mini bell peppers. Grill the shrimp and bell peppers over medium-high heat. When the shrimp turn pink (3-5 minutes), remove them from the grill and set aside. Continue cooking the bell peppers until they are soft and blackened in spots.

In a large salad bowl, combine the spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers and onion. Dress with the Mediterranean Dressing and mix well. (I used about half of what the recipe made.) Toss in the warm shrimp and bell peppers. Serve the salad in shallow bowls with pita crisps and garnish with feta, oregano, and lemon.

Grilled Shrimp Salad

Grilled Shrimp and Bell Pepper Salad Close Up

*To make pita bread crisps, slice pita bread into 1 – 1 1/2″ strips. Place on a cookie sheet, brush lightly with olive oil and season with salt. Bake in a preheated 425°F oven for approx. 10 minutes, turning once, until golden brown.

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

We are at the point in the wedding process where glorious wedding gifts are occasionally waiting for us by the garage when we get home from work.  (Thank you friends and family!!!)  One gift that’s had an immediate impact on our cooking habits is our amazing Zojirushi rice cooker.  This countertop gadget cooks every type of grain imaginable and it’s incredibly easy to use.  It’s also so satisfying to pop open the top at the end of the cook time and find perfectly cooked, fluffy, steaming hot rice.  Yum!

In addition to cooking the perfect pot of rice, the Zojirushi can cook quinoa, a protein-packed ‘superfood’ that, according to wikipedia, is actually more closely related to beets and spinach than grains.  Quinoa can easily be substituted in for grains in a well-rounded meal so, armed with our new rice cooker, Matt and I decided that we’d try our hand at a nice summery quinoa salad.  I found a great looking recipe on Garnish with Lemon and, after a few small tweaks (because I never follow recipes exactly), we ended up with a delicious, healthy salad that we’ll continue to enjoy all week for lunch.

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad (adapted from Garnish With Lemon)

You will need…
1 1/2 cups raw Quinoa (or about 6 cups cooked Quinoa)
1/3-1/2 cup Red Wine Vinegar
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Red Onion, finely chopped
1 Red Pepper, chopped
1 Cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 pint Cherry Tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup Kalamata Olives, halved
1/2 – 1 cup Crumbled Feta Cheese
1 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Pepper
Juice of 1/2 – 1 Lemon

Directions:
Cook the quinoa on the stovetop according to the package instructions or, if you have a rice cooker, cook it in the rice cooker on the normal white rice setting with a 2:1 water to quinoa ratio.  When cooking is complete, transfer the quinoa to a large bowl, cool for 5-10 minutes and stir in the vinegar and olive oil.

Allow the quinoa to cool completely to room temperature, then gently stir in the next 6 ingredients (onion thru feta).  Season with salt and pepper (add more to taste if needed).  If you have the patience, chill the salad for 2 hours (we ate it immediately and it was still good) and “garnish with lemon” just before serving.

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad 5

Tomato Salad with Guajillo Chile Dressing AND a Giveaway Contest Sponsored by Slimkicker!!

I’m excited to announce that the team over at Slimkicker.com has asked me to host a Giveaway on my blog!  Slimkicker is an online “game” that helps you reach health goals by setting a series personalized challenges and rewards for yourself… but more on that in a moment.  First, I want to share a recipe for a healthy meal that Matt and I enjoyed last week.

Oh… and I have to brag a little here – those perfect little rosy red tomatoes are from our garden!  They were delicious.  🙂

Tomato Salad with Guajillo Chile Dressing (from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless)

You will need…
3/4 cup Olive Oil (can also be a mixture of Olive Oil and Veggie/Canola Oil)
2 Dried Guajillo Chiles or New Mexico Chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 Garlic Cloves, peeled and quartered
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar (also try Sherry Vinegar or White Wine Vinegar)
Salt, to taste
6 Green Onions, wilted leaves and white root tips removed
1 1/2 cups Cherry Tomatoes, halved
Handful of Watercress Leaves
2 oz. crumbled Queso Fresco Cheese

Directions:
To make the Guajillo Chile Dressing, pour the oil into a large skillet and place over medium heat.  Add the chiles and garlic and saute, stirring constantly, for approximately 30 seconds until the chiles become fragrant.  Remove from heat and carefully transfer the chiles (leaving the garlic and oil) into a blender.  Add the vinegar and salt and blend for 30 seconds.  Once the oil and garlic have cooled, add them to the blender and blend until smooth.

Return the unwashed skillet to medium heat.  Brush the green onions with oil and place them in the skillet, turning occasionally, until wilted and browned.  Remove from skillet and slice into 1/4 inch pieces.  Reserve a few of the smaller onions as a garnish if desired.

To assemble your Tomato Salad, arrange a layer of watercress on a small plate.  Next, add a handful of the tomatoes (sprinkle some coarse salt on the tomatoes if desired) and add the green onions.  Add the crumbled queso fresco and drizzle on a few teaspoons of your Guajillo Chile Dressing.  Enjoy as a healthy main course or as a satisfying appetizer.

And now on to the Slimkicker Giveaway!  One of my readers will win this digital kitchen scale simply by commenting on this post!  Cool, right?

Slimkicker is an online “game” that helps you track your calorie intake and exercise.  Why is it a game, you ask?  Well, with Slimkicker you set a series of fun challenges (things like quitting soda for a week or cooking your dinner five days in a row rather than getting takeout) and you earn “points” if you complete your challenges.  After you earn a certain number of points you are eligible for Slimkicker giveaways and the program encourages you to reward yourself with a self-selected “perk” like indulging in something really tasty, taking a day off from your workout routine, or (if you earn a lot of points!) buying yourself a new iPod.

Since creating and sticking with fun challenges is an important part of the Slimkicker program, the folks at Slimkicker would like to read YOUR ideas for a Healthy Challenge!  To enter the contest and be eligible to win the digital scale, simply leave me a comment below with your own idea for a Healthy Challenge.  Slimkicker will select one person who leaves a comment in this post (pretty good odds, right?) as the winner of the digital scale.

My personal healthy challenge is to sit with good posture at work for one hour every day for a week.  Other challenges that have piqued my interest are to drink a glass of water before every meal (helps with feeling fuller sooner) and to replace juice with unsweetened iced tea for a week.  What are YOUR ideas for a healthy challenge?  Please share!

Contest ends at 11:59PM EDT on Wednesday, August 1st.  Comment before then for your chance to win!

Disclosure: The Ozeri Professional Digital Scale and all information about the program have been supplied by Slimkicker.  I downloaded the Slimkicker App but haven’t used it yet… I’ve been too busy sitting with good posture!

Corn and Black Bean Salad

This healthy, colorful salad is easy to make and the combination of rice vinegar, lime juice and cilantro give it a great, fresh flavor.  Because you can make it several hours ahead of time, this has been a go-to side dish for us when we’re having people over for dinner.  The leftovers (if there are any!) keep well and are delicious either alone or as a chunky salsa/dip with tortilla chips.  We found the original recipe on Whole Food’s blog.

Corn and Black Bean Salad

You will need…
2 – 15 oz. cans of Black Beans, drained and rinsed
15 oz. frozen Corn, rinsed (if using canned corn boil it for 1 minute and then drain)
1 small Red Onion, chopped and rinsed
1 Red Bell Pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons Rice Vinegar
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tablespoon Lime Juice
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/3 cup Cilantro, chopped

Directions:
Rinse the beans, corn and red onion in a large colander.  Allow to drain thoroughly, then add the red bell pepper.

Meanwhile, combine the rice vinegar, olive oil, lime juice, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.  Mix well, then add the bean, corn, onion, and pepper mixture from the colander.  Add the chopped cilantro.  Mix the entire salad well and then cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour to chill.  Stir again before serving.