Panzanella, I have just learned, comes from the Italian words pane and zanella, meaning 'bread' and 'little basket'. I think that's just aggressively adorable, don't you? Come over, have a look inside my little bread basket! What's in there? Why, it's a delicious summer salad.

Now I wish I'd put this in an adorable little basket before I photographed it. Let's just imagine that I did.

The really wonderful thing about this summer salad is that it could have almost anything in it, it's one of those greatly adaptable Italian dishes (like minestrone) that always reminds me a little of stone soup. Take a little of this, a little of's traditionally supposed to have tomatoes, cucumber, basil and onion to be a proper panzanella, but I've never been a girl that cared all that much for propriety. Toss some kalamata olives in there, if that's your bag. Replace the mozzarella with a harder, nuttier cheese, or even a smoked Gouda. There can be anything in the world in your panzanella....although probably not Wonder bread, pickled jalapenos, French fried onions and nacho cheese sauce. Although that might be amazing, for all I know, but you'd probably be forced by the cultural police to just call it 'my little basket of bread' instead of panzanella. One can go too far, it seems.

Summer Panzanella with Mozzarella, Tomatoes, Zucchini and Basil

Serves 2

Guys, I have to be up front about this with you right now, there's so much about this that's nontraditional, it would make an Italian's head explode. From a Florentine's perspective, it might as well have Wonder bread and nacho cheese in it, I suppose. But I'm really okay with that, and you will be too, because it's totally delicious. 

My version is loosely inspired by caprese, the classic salad that combines ripe tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and basil, but it's mostly just a bowl of joyous chaos inspired by summer itself. The bread is supposed to be soaked in water first and then squeezed dry-ish, but I liked the idea of crustier, sharper little cubes rubbed in oil and garlic instead, and I think you will, too. Enjoy!

4 1" slices rustic bread (I used a crusty ciabatta)
4 T. olive oil
one clove of garlic
1 zucchini
10 grape tomatoes
soppressata (or your salty, cured meat of choice....this could easily be salami, prosciutto, or even a handful of pitted kalamatas if you'd like a vegetarian meal. I used 4 thin slices of soppressata cut into 1/2 squares, your amounts will vary depending on what you choose)
2 oz. mozzarella (just take one of those 8 oz. balls from the supermarket and quarter it)
1 T. balsamic vinegar
handful of fresh basil (about 10 leaves)

Lightly brush your slices of bread with about 2 T. of the olive oil, covering both sides. Heat a skillet over medium high heat and toast the bread on both sides, turning frequently until golden brown. Remove and let cool. Once cooled, rub bread on both sides with the clove of garlic, then cut into 1/2" croutons and place in bowl.

Slice zucchini into 1/2" half moons, add to skillet with 1 T. olive oil and a pinch of salt, tossing to coat. Saute over medium high heat until just softened, with some tasty browned spots here and there. Add to bowl with croutons. 

Slice grape tomatoes in half and add to salad bowl, along with soppressata. Cut mozzarella into 1/2" cubes and add to bowl, as well. Drizzle salad with the remaining 1 T. olive oil, 1 T. balsamic vinegar, and fresh basil leaves (roughly hand-torn). Toss everything three or four times in the bowl just to combine, then serve.