Is there really a better tasting salad that one made up of bread? This Panzanella Toscana Salad Recipe is absolutely delicious and becomes a complete meal with the addition of chicken. You get toasty bread, bright tomatoes, cool and crisp cucumber, herby basil, and creamy mozzarella, all tossed in a sweet and tangy vinaigrette. It really is perfection. I love it for lunch, but it would be a great Summer dinner as well. And the best part is that you don't need to wait for your bread to stale, you can simply toast it in the oven for 15 minutes, toss it with the other ingredients, and enjoy.
ROAST CHICKEN. Preheat the oven to 400 F degrees. Put the chicken breast on a baking sheet and rub with a drizzle of Olive Oil, salt and pepper. Bake in the oven bottom rack for 10 minutes at 400 F degrees. Then turn the oven down to 300 F degrees and continue to cook for another 15 minutes or until internal temp reaches 165 degrees F. (NOTE: the bread in the next step will be added to the oven as well for this last 15 minutes).
TOAST BREAD. While the Chicken cooks for 10 minutes, drizzle 2 tablespoons of Olive Oil onto a large sheet pan. Using a brush or back of a fork, spread the oil around the pan. Cube the bread loaf and spread the cubes out on the oiled sheet pan and toss to get a little bit of oil on all sides. Sprinkle with a sprinkle of salt (about ½ tsp) and black pepper (about ¼ tsp). Bake in the oven top rack for 15 minutes in the 300 F degree oven with the chicken.
CUT CHICKEN. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut it into bite-size cubes.
PREP VEGGIES. Cut tomatoes into bite-size cubes. Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise, then slice into half circles. Finely dice the red onion. Mince the garlic.
PREP CHEESE. Cut the cheese into bite-size cubes.
MAKE DRESSING. In a small bowl, add the Dijon, Oil, Vinegar, Honey, red onion, Salt, Pepper. Whisk together with a fork or small whisk until completely blended together.
MIX SALAD. To a large bowl, add the toasted bread, chicken, tomato, and cucumber. Tear half of the basil leaves into the bowl. Drizzle half of the dressing over and toss to combine. Taste for dressing and more as desired. Add the cheese and give a light toss. Tear off more basil for garnish and enjoy!
A baguette or other long crusty bread is best for Panzanella. The crust tends to stay the crispiest, so I like to use a lot of it in this recipe. You can also use a boulle or other whole loaf bread that you need to cut yourself. You do not want to buy pre-sliced breads. They are sliced for sandwiches and therefore, will be too thin to hold up with the dressing. The result will be a soggy bread salad.
If you dress this Panzanella salad more than right before serving, the bread will start to get soggy. Therefore, I really do not recommend dressing it ahead. However, you can do everything else, even toast the bread up to an hour ahead. Just leave the bread in the pan until your ready to mix the salad and serve it.