Grilled Panzanella Salad with Roasted Peppers and Torn Mozzarella

I'm having a hard time imagining a more perfect summertime meal than this grilled panzanella salad.  I've made it numerous times this summer, switching up the ingredients and experimenting a bit.  And I'm here to tell you that there's just no way to mess this up.  It's just always good; grilled bread, you know?  

I've made it as a main course by adding a little grilled chicken, but it could most definitely be a main course without it.  I've made it with all grilled peppers and no tomatoes, I've added cucumbers and grilled zucchini,  and one time I used little bocconcini (small mozzarella balls in water) instead of the torn shards of fresh mozzarella.  We've loved every single incarnation, but I think I've settled on our favorite version, which is what I'm sharing with you today.

Our favorite version combines roasted peppers, fresh, juicy tomatoes, grilled bread and onions, fresh mozzarella, and either fresh parsley or basil.

If you've never had the good fortune of enjoying panzanella, it is truly one of those wondrous dishes that came to us from "poverty cuisine".  This one originates in Italy as far back as the 1500's.  Those smart cooks knew that they could extend the life of a loaf of bread by softening it in olive oil and tomato juices and combining it with whatever vegetables might be available.  It's somewhat similar to Fattoush, an Israeli/Lebanese salad that uses pita bread instead of a baguette, but I'm guessing it has similar origins.  All that to say... stale bread is very welcome here.

Yes, we've upped the panzanella game just a bit by grilling our bread and veggies and throwing in some fresh mozzarella, but the salad still offers up an earthy, homey experience that puts it squarely in the comfort food file for me.

Comfort food meets summertime grill meets summer veggies... here's the recipe...

Grilled Panzanella With Roasted Peppers and Torn Mozzarella

This is our favorite version of panzanella salad, which began with a recipe from Serious Eats.  I’ve made some changes to the recipe, but if you’d like to consult the original, you’ll find the link below.  Salting the tomatoes to extract their juice is crucial to this salad’s success, so don’t skip that part.  It’s also why you need to use very ripe tomatoes.  I used heirloom tomatoes that were very heavy and so delicious.  When the juices from the tomatoes mingle with the olive oil and soak into the bread, it really is quite heavenly.

Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe adapted from Serious Eats

2 large very ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 bell peppers, cut into halves or thirds
1 large red onion, cut into 3/4-inch slices, each slice held together with 2 wooden skewers*
1 (1-pound) loaf day-old Italian bread, sliced into 1-inch thick slices
Lots of torn fresh mozzarella ( lots of little bocconcini)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Lots of fresh parsley or basil for serving

*  I didn't use the skewers, but sort of wished I had as I lost some of that gorgeous onion into the flames.  But if you're good with a spatula, you might pull it off without the skewers.

1. Toss tomato chunks with 1/2 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Set aside at room temperature. Brush peppers, red onion, and bread slices with 1/4 cup olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

2. Preheat a charcoal or gas grill to high and place peppers, and onions on grate. Cover and cook until first side is lightly charred, about 4 minutes. Flip, cover, and cook until charred on second side and vegetables are tender, about 4 minutes longer (depending on size of vegetables, some may take longer or shorter to cook. Remove from grill as they become tender). Transfer to cutting board and tent loosely with foil.

3. Meanwhile, grill bread until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to cutting board with vegetables cut bread and vegetables into rough 1-inch cubes and transfer to bowl with tomatoes. Add the remaining olive oil and vinegar.  Tear the mozzarella cheese into pieces and toss everything to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

To serve, sprinkle the salad with torn basil or parsley.

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