“Panzanella” comes from the Italian “pane” (bread) and “zanella” (soup bowl). Translated, it means a hearty vegetable-bread salad, satisfying enough for a meal. Though it’s most often associated with tomatoes, this summer toss-up is open to interpretation. Right now green beans are at their peak and they’re perfect in any salad, especially panzanella.
Unless you’re plucking them straight from your garden, buy local beans at the farmers markets or co-ops that are bright and smooth, without nicks or brown spots. You’ll know they’re fresh when they snap (they’re also called “snap beans”). Yellow beans are a close cousin and interchangeable in green bean recipes, though the flavor tends to be more delicate. Those intriguing purple beans can be tough and their colors turn green once they’re cooked.
And when it comes to cooking, most recipes suggest that green beans be blanched in boiling water, then shocked in ice water, and served tender crisp. But I prefer the method recommended by Lynne Rossetto Kasper of “The Splendid Table” radio show, that cooks them beyond crisp to be just tender. This way the flavors of the small inner seeds, when exposed to heat, open up so that you have fuller, more robust tasting beans.
To do this, set a sauté pan of water over high heat, bring to a boil, drop in the beans, and cook until their color fades slightly and they no longer snap, about 5 minutes or more, tasting to be sure they’re pliable but not too soft. Drain and drizzle them with good olive oil or butter and a sprinkle of coarse salt. They’re best at room temperature, or can be chilled for a snack or salads, like panzanella.
Panzanella is perfect on picnics, barbecues and patio dinners. It travels well, holds up in the heat, and is delicious served at room temperature. When it’s made ahead of time, the bread cubes soak in the dressing and the flavors mingle. Use a good sourdough with a good crunchy crust. In this recipe the bread is tossed with oil and toasted first, like a fat, crunchy crouton.
While this version features green beans, the recipe is delicious with any combination of garden vegetables — cucumbers, onions, peppers, tomatillos, fresh corn — whatever looks good from your farmers market haul. Give the salad a little time to sit before serving; at least 30 minutes or up to 3 hours. Don’t refrigerate or the green beans and vegetables will lose their vibrant taste once chilled; serve it the same day it’s made. Best thing about this salad is that it puts to great use the odds and ends of fresh vegetables and stale bread.
Panzanella Green Bean Salad
Serves about 4 to 6 (recipe is easily doubled).
Note: Make this ahead so the flavors mingle and the bread softens; it’s perfect picnic or beach fare. For an even heartier rendition, toss in cooked chicken, or diced mozzarella and crisped pancetta. From Beth Dooley.
• 1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
• 4 to 5 c. cubed artisan bread (preferably sourdough)
• 1 1/4 lb. green beans, tips removed
• 1 pint (2 c.) cherry tomatoes, halved
• 3 tbsp. red wine vinegar, to taste
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the bread cubes with 1 to 2 tablespoons oil. Spread on a baking sheet and toast until lightly browned, about 5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. Turn into a salad bowl.
Fill a skillet with 1 inch of water, set over high heat, bring to a boil and cook the green beans until they are tender, about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on their size and age, but be careful not to overcook. Drain and pat dry. Cut into 3-inch pieces. Turn into the salad bowl with the toasted bread and add the tomatoes.
In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar and remaining olive oil and toss with the vegetables to lightly coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Nutrition information per each of 6 servings:
Calories 210 Carbohydrates 22 g Protein 5 g Fat 13 g Saturated fat 2 g Cholesterol 0 mg Sodium 120 mg
Total sugars 3 g
Dietary fiber 4 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 1 starch, 2½ fat.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.