Homemade with Love, Indeed

May 25, 2013

If you came into my house right now, you would find homemade cookies in the cookie jar, homemade ice cream in the freezer (and some non-homemade flavors), about ten different kinds of baking chocolate, half of a homemade ginger pound cake, half a homemade chocolate pound cake, and remnants of Easter candy.  Some people might wonder how I can live with all of these things surrounding me and not eat them.  The reason is because I am a savory person.  Not that I don’t like sweet, believe me, the chocolate tempts me sometimes.  But it is not all that difficult for me to ignore the fact that I have a mini bakery going on in my house.  My problem area is the shelf that houses the chips, pretzels, crackers, and don’t even get me started on popcorn.

Something I truly can not stop eating is homemade croutons.  Therefore I do not make them all that often and when I do, I double the amount I need so that there will be some left, you know, for the dish they were intended.  I have always baked my croutons in the oven.  And they have always been great.  What is better than great?  Awesome?  Stupendous?  When you cook them in a pan on the stove, croutons become stupendous.

Homemade croutons figure very prominently in Panzanella, the Italian bread salad.  It is a very simple dish with few ingredients.  It is the epitome of rustic Italian food.  Take the very best quality things and put them together in a simple and beautiful way.  I’ve made many Panzanella recipes in my cooking life but have either made more complicated versions (see this Heirloom Tomato Salad  and Panzanella with Artichokes, Olives, and Manchego) or I have half heartedly thrown halved (pretty flavorless) cherry tomatoes, those mini balls of mozzarella, a few basil leaves, and croutons in a bowl.  It sad to me now that I could have been so overambitious or so careless with something that can be so simple to make and so incredibly tasty.

You know what they say about pizza, right?  Even when it is bad it is still good.  I’ve eaten plenty of Panzanella in addition to the ones I have made and I always like it.  A few weeks ago, when I went to a lunch party thrown by Jennie to celebrate her new book, Homemade with Love, I got to taste the Panzanella that helped me see the light.  Jennie did all the cooking for the party and I was delighted to see that everything was vegetarian.  I took a bit of everything on my plate with an extra healthy helping of her Panzanella.  All the food was beautifully presented and incredibly tasty, no small feat when you are cooking out of a hotel room kitchen, but this salad stole the show for me.  What had always been really just an excuse for me to eat dressing soaked croutons has become a thing of beauty where each ingredient shines and together there is magic.  Cherry tomatoes are better than romas but slow-roasted cherry tomatoes are glouriously sweet and jammy.  Any crouton is a good crouton, as I think I have made clear, but tossing them with just a bit of Parmesan and parsley and then cooking them in a pan on the stove, gave them charming browned bits and that perfect texture of crunch but with a little squish.  (Technical terms.)  It became clear that this would become my Panzanella forever more.

I have now made this several times and I have just a few tips.  I like using a loaf of bread with a dense crumb.  Too many air pockets means croutons that are too crispy and potentially burned in spots.  I have had luck with Pugliese bread.  I cut off each end and then shave a bit of the crustiest parts off.  More or less equal sized pieces are my preference and I like them big.  As much as I am absolutely smitten with the stovetop method, the second time I made the salad I had a lot going on in the kitchen and didn’t feel like I could successfully manage to keep turning the croutons in the manner they deserved.  So I put them in a 375º oven and they were great.  Not stupendous, but still great.  Because there are so few ingredients here, do use the very best.  Be sure to grate your own Parmesan for the croutons and buy a really good fresh mozzarella, preferably an Italian one made with buffalo milk.

Two Years Ago:  No Knead Olive Bread
Three Years Ago:  Spicy Peanut Noodles, Pull-Apart Cheesy Onion Bread (sooooo good)
Four Years Ago:  Greek Pasta Casserole, Green Bean and Fennel Salad

Slow-Roasted Tomato & Fresh Mozzarella Panzanella
Homemade with Love
Serves 2

Please note, this recipe as written serves only 2.  Both times I have made it, I have scaled it up by using a the whole pint of cherry tomatoes, more croutons, and about 8 ounces of mozzarella.

1½ tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. honey
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups Parmesan Skillet Croutons (recipe follows)
3 ounces fresh mozzarella, cubed
½ cup Slow-Roasted Tomatoes (recipe follows)
Handful fresh basil leaves, torn

To  make the dressing, whisk the oil, vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper together in a deep bowl.  Adjust the seasonings to taste.  Add the croutons, mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil to the bowl, tossing well to combine.  Let the salad sit for at least 5 minutes so the croutons can absorb the flavors, but mo more then 15 minutes or they will get too soggy and lose their crunch.  To serve, spoon the salad onto a platter or individual plates.

Parmesan Skillet Croutons
Makes 2 cups

2 cups cubed day-old bread
1 tsp. finely chopped parsley
2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Toss all the ingredients together in a bowl until the bread cubes are well coated

Heat an 8-inch skillet over medium heat.  Add the seasoned bread cubes to the pan and cook, turning occasionally, until golden all over, 5 to 7 minutes.  Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes
Makes about 1½ cups

1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 sprigs fresh lemon thyme, copped

Preheat the oven to 250ºF.  Add all the ingredients to an 8-inch square baking dish and toss well to coat.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  Bake until the tomatoes are slightly collapsed and tender, about 1 hour.  Let cool completely, and store in a tightly covered mason jar or container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.



  1. Wow. This salad looks amazing. I’ve never tried making croutons in a skillet before, but after learning that they’re even better than oven-baked croutons, I’m gonna have to try them! Thanks for posting :)

    Comment by Haley @ Cheap Recipe Blog — May 25, 2013 @ 6:32 pm

  2. This salad looks amazing. I can finish the whole plate.

    Comment by MyKitchenStove — May 26, 2013 @ 3:26 am

  3. I’ve made quite a few panzanellas in my day also but have never made croutons on the stovetop! That is definitely a must for this summer.

    Comment by Joanne — May 26, 2013 @ 11:55 am

  4. I can’t wait to try this version of bread salad. It’s one of my favorite meals in the summer. I have the same problem with croutons and have to make a double supply.

    Comment by linda — May 26, 2013 @ 7:29 pm

  5. I’ve made panzanella before but never with croutons – just stale sourdough. It’s been delicious but I can see how this would be SO MUCH BETTER! I love homemade croutons – it’s how my mom made them growing up and we’d toss them in soups and salads and I’d always snag a few at the stove. So making this!

    Comment by kickpleat — May 26, 2013 @ 9:16 pm

  6. I LOVE panzanella. A salad that is mainly bread? That’s my kind of scam. And you’re right. There ain’t nothing like a skillet crouton. They are the best.

    Comment by Sarah — May 27, 2013 @ 1:50 am

  7. Dana, I love panzanella salad, and I agree—no bad ones out there. I kind of cheat when I make panzanella salad. We take thick slices of ciabatta bread, brush them with olive oil, and grill both sides on our outdoor grill. We also grill onions, and cherry tomatoes, and sometimes grill peppers too, to add to the salad. As soon as everything comes off the grill we rub garlic on the bread, and cut it up into bite sized pieces. (and the veggies too) We dump it into the serving bowl, and add hunks of goat cheese so it gets all melty. Yum.

    Comment by AnnieM — May 30, 2013 @ 2:03 am

  8. My first visit here and I’m so excited to find this recipe. I LOVE Panzanella salad, but have never made it. All the recipes I seem to find have cucumber as am important part. Neither my husband or I like cucumber, which is probably odd. I actually thought it was a requirement, like it wouldn’t be Panzanella without cucumber. Anyway, I’m definitely going to try this recipe. Thanks so much! Oh and btw, I’m much older, but also look so much better in really short hair. Love yours!

    Comment by Karen — June 18, 2013 @ 4:25 pm

  9. I am both, sweet and savory ;) Never made this salad before and it would be a meal for me. Nothing beats homemade croutons.

    Comment by Helene — June 21, 2013 @ 2:04 pm

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