Raise your hand if you like bread! How ’bout tomatoes? Panzanella in it’s most basic form is just that: bread and tomatoes. A rustic Italian dish, it was designed to use up stale bread by bathing it in the juice of cut tomatoes. Right now, half of you are thinking this sounds like a practical idea, while the rest are thinking no way do croutons and tomatoes constitute a meal. I have to admit that I’m kind of in the second camp. I need some green stuff thrown in with my tomato wedges-lettuce, kale, or spinach. A few basil leaves just aren’t gonna do it for me.
So I added some. So this is no longer panzanella in the strictest sense of the word-purists are rolling their eyes and I’m probably offending Italians right and left. And then there’s the shrimp. If you’re gonna do something completely wrong, might as well be thorough about it. No explanation other than I thought I’d add a little protein and had some shrimp on hand.
My bread was a very sturdy loaf of garlic bread from the discount bakery rack. Do not use a wimpy bread for panzanella. Something chewy and dense is ideal (like a baguette-or even denser). And of course you need tomatoes. I chose heirloom tomatoes for the unique look they give to the salad, but also for their flavor. A little more mellow, and less acidic tasting, in my opinion. Heirloom tomatoes are varieties at least 50 years old (therefore I would be an heirloom- in tomato years) and pollinated the way nature intended: by insects, or just the wind, not by human intervention. If your garden is producing a bounty of tomatoes, this is a tasty way to use them. Basil is often added to panzanella. I had some basil, but it was starting to go downhill so you don’t see much in these photos. Use as much or as little as you like.
Since my bread wasn’t that stale I crisped it up a bit in a skillet with a little olive oil and some Italian seasoning. I could have done this in the oven on a baking sheet, but it was hot and I was lazy. And I was just joking about croutons-don’t make it quite that hard. While the bread cools cook the shrimp in the same skillet. Shrimp takes just minutes-almost moments-to cook. So all total you’re only at the stove about 10 minutes, which seems reasonable for dinner on a hot summer day. (If you like lots of shrimp in your salad cook extra.)
I sometimes see people add onion and cucumber to panzanella. Since I’m not a cucumber lover I left that out, and pretty much just used the onion for garnish. If you like cucumbers, by all means add some. Mozzarella is yummy in this salad. I just used the block kind, but the little balls of fresh mozzarella would be really good in this and I encourage you to try it.
There’s nothing fancy at all about the oil and vinegar dressing (use your favorite instead if you like), but it’s a great addition to the salad that’s simple to make and doesn’t overwhelm any of the ingredients.
This salad makes a great summer main dish-or serve it as an accompaniment to a chilled soup or a sandwich. Maybe an Italian sub?
Spinach and Shrimp Panzanella
- FOR THE DRESSING:
- ½ c. olive oil
- ¼ red wine vinegar
- 2 tsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard, optional
- salt and pepper, to taste
- FOR THE SALAD:
- 2 Tbs. olive oil, divided use
- basil leaves, torn
- 3 c. cubed bread (a dense bread)
- ½ tsp. Italian seasoning, optional
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 8 oz. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
- salt and pepper
- 3 c. sliced (in wedges) tomatoes
- 4 c. fresh spinach, packed
- 4 oz. mozzarella, cut up
- Sliced red onion, if desired
- Step 1 Make the dressing: in a small bowl whisk together all dressing ingredients and set aside.
- Step 2 Make the salad: in a medium skillet heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Toss in the bread cubes and sprinkle with Italian seasoning. Stir bread around until toasty, about 4-5 minutes. Remove bread cubes from skillet to cool.
- Step 3 Wipe out the skillet and add remaining tablespoon of oil and minced garlic, and heat on medium. Add shrimp, season with salt and pepper, and cook 2-3 minutes. Flip shrimp over, season, and cook 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat and refrigerate about 15 minutes.
- Step 4 While shrimp is cooling, start layering the salad.
- Step 5 Put half the cubed bread in the bottom of a large bowl. Cover with half of the tomatoes. Sprinkle with torn basil.
- Step 6 Put half the spinach over the basil and tomatoes.
- Step 7 Repeat layers: bread, tomatoes, basil, spinach.
- Step 8 Remove the shrimp from the refrigerator and sprinkle over spinach. Top with mozzarella and red onion.
- Step 9 Whisk the dressing again and serve over salad.