Panzanella is a dish that is typically served at the height of tomato season. Essentially a bread salad, it consists of dried bread tossed with juicy tomatoes, veggies and lots of olive oil. This version of panzanella, with olives, white beans and arugula pesto is the perfect variation for colder months. When the weather starts to turn and the comfort food cravings hit, between all of the soups, stews and cheesy pasta, I still often want something that is light and fresh but also a bit hearty. Enter panzanella or bread salad!
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What do I need to make this panzanella?
French Bread 1-2 days old – dried bread is the beginnings of any panzanella. It’s the perfect recipe to use up the rest of the french bread loaf that’s been sitting on your counter for a day or two. You can use baguette, sourdough, ciabatta or even whole grain bread. Classic panzanella is Italy’s delicious solution to use extra tomatoes and stale bread. It’s one of those dishes that’s all about eliminating food waste so don’t be afraid to put your own spin on it.
Arugula – my favorite thing about this recipe is the arugula pesto. Arugula thrives in the cooler weather and is such a versatile green. It’s great as a salad base, on sandwiches, pile it raw on top of a pizza, mix it into pasta or pesto-ize it – which is exactly what we’re going to do in this recipe. Arugula looks like lettuce but it’s actually a cruciferous vegetable, like cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts and kale. With a delightful, peppery flavor, this superfood is high in vitamin K, critical for bone health and has eight times more calcium than iceberg lettuce! I always have a container in my fridge, it’s so easy to incorporate into so many meals.
Cannellini Beans – originally from Italy, cannellini beans have a silky texture and nutty flavor. Slightly warmed and tossed with arugula pesto, cannellini beans pack this hearty salad with healthy protein. My pantry is always stocked with a few cans for salads, soups and pastas. I order most of my pantry staples from Thrive Market, my favorite online organic grocery store. All the organic goodies for 25-40% off delivered straight to your door. Membership is SO worth it.
Almonds or Pine Nuts – for the pesto. I tend to use sliced almonds as they are more economical and I use them more often than I would pine nuts. You could also use walnuts!
Kalamata Olives – the most well known Greek Olives. Kalamata olives add a wonderful brininess, texture and flavor to this salad. Even if you think you’re not an olive lover, I encourage you to give these a try. They have a distinct flavor and are perfect in pasta, pizza, salad, on a cheese plate or if you’re like me, a few at a time for snacking. Just make sure you get the pitted kind for this recipe!
Sun Dried Tomatoes – these come both dry in bags and in jars packed in olive oil. I tend to buy the jars packed in olive oil as you get the benefit of the tomato infused oil along with it. A win win.
Lemon – fresh lemon juice for the arugula pesto.
Parmesan – can’t have pesto without parmesan!
Garlic – a must.
Olive Oil – I’ll say it again, make sure you use the good stuff! The ingredients in this panzanella are simple and you will taste them all. The taste of the olive oil will really shine. I use The Furies Olive Oil. It’s seriously the best I’ve ever had. Harvested from small family farms in Greece and a small, women owned business? You have to try it!
Butter – that dried bread is about to be transformed into garlic butter croutons. Get into it.
Italian Seasoning – for the croutons!
What are the steps?
Just a few simple steps and you can be eating this in about 30 minutes. Packed with protein from the cannellini beans, this panzanella makes a hearty vegetarian main dish or a nice side with fish or chicken.
First make the arugula pesto. Just toss arugula, nuts, parmesan, lemon juice, olive oil and a few pinches of salt in the food processor until pulverized. I often make a double batch because it keeps well in the fridge for about a week if you use fresh arugula and it’s so good for pasta, sandwiches, dolloped in soup or just as a snack with a chunk of bread. It’s SO GOOD!
Make your croutons by cubing up the bread, tossing with olive oil, garlic, butter and seasoning and then toasting in the oven till slightly browned. Try not to eat them all straight from the pan!
Warm up the beans just a bit. You don’t want them piping hot, just slightly warmed.
Arrange it all on a platter and serve! Simple, rustic and incredibly delicious!
Panzanella with Olives, White Beans and Arugula Pesto
For the Garlic Butter Croutons:
- 4 cups day old cubed french bread
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning or ½ teaspoon each of dried basil and oregano
- ¼ tsp salt
For the Arugula Pesto:
- 2 cups arugula
- ¼ almonds or pine nuts
- ¼ cup parmesan
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic
- ½ cup good olive oil
- ½ tsp salt
- 2-3 cups arugula
- 1 150 z can of cannellini beans drained and slightly warmed
- ⅓ cup kalamata olives
- ¼ cup of julienned sun dried tomatoes
- Squeeze of lemon juice and drizzle of olive oil for serving
- In the food processor, add 2 cups arugula, almonds or pine nuts, parmesan, lemon juice 2 cloves garlic, ½ cup olive oil and ½ tsp of salt. Pulse until well combined. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss cubed bread with butter, 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 cloves minced garlic and Italian seasoning on a baking sheet until well combined. Press gently and smear bread cubes into mixture to make sure it sticks to the bread. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown, tossing halfway through and rotating the pan. Let cool completely.
- Warm cannellini beans and stir in ¼ cup of the pesto.
- Squeeze a bit of fresh lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil on bed of arugula on a platter. Arrange warmed beans, garlic croutons, olives and sun dried tomatoes on top. Serve immediately with extra pesto on the side for drizzling.