No-cook meals are a summer staple, and I happened to recall one of my favorite hot weather dishes while stupidly baking pie for Father’s Day. I told you I was going to make Claire’s fantastic Key Lime Pie for Father’s Day, and I actually followed through! It was delicious and very well received, thank you very much. After preheating the oven, though, I realized I probably shouldn’t have taken this on in the middle of the day – it was sweltering hot in my kitchen. To alleviate the pain caused by all the hot stickiness, I made myself a killer sandwich on a hunk taken from a fresh baguette that had been gifted to me. The combination of tomato, fresh mozzarella, avocado, and tangy vinaigrette (and an ice-cold peach ale) was the perfect way to cool my overheated brain. I thought to myself, “I could eat this every day,” but then I realized my baguette would be stale before I even got hungry again.
And so, the perfect summer no-cook meal came to be: panzanella (bread salad)! I cut the rest of the baguette into cubes and left it out on the counter to dry out a bit (unsurprisingly, this happens rather quickly in Phoenix). My next bright idea was to use up just about everything I had left in my fridge from my excessive Costco-ing. I had tomatoes, avocados, and bell peppers that needed to be used up, plus a couple logs of fresh mozzarella. I threw together a vinaigrette on the fly using avocado oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, fresh garlic, and an Italian dip mix that seemed like a good combo of herbs (I used this one, but you can play around with whatever spices you have on hand, or use a prepackaged mix from the grocery store blended with oil and vinegar).
I chopped up all my veggies and cheese into roughly bite-sized pieces, threw it all in with the bread cubes, and poured the vinaigrette over the top. I covered my over-sized bowl with plastic wrap and gently shook it around to make sure everything was evenly coated, then stuck it in the fridge overnight. A couple times during the night, I shook up the bowl again, just to keep things fair (it would be totally rude to not give every piece equal access to that delicious dressing, after all!). The next day I transferred it to a serving bowl and brought it along to our family meal. It made an excellent side dish and the leftovers served as a ready-made no-cook meal for lunch and dinner the next day, especially when I added some of my sister’s leftover grilled chicken.
The first few times I made panzanella, I used a recipe, and while it was really good, it was also fairly restrictive (only because I let it be, but I think we do that too often with recipes). I have since realized that this simple no-cook meal is endlessly customizable, and can be suited to anyone’s specific tastes. My impromptu dish described above opened up my curiosity to new flavor combinations. I’m going to share with you the basic steps to making a fantastic panzanella along with some ideas I’ve got kicking around for new flavors.
I hope next time you’ve got a loaf of bread threatening to turn on you, you’ll consider joining me on the no-cook meals bandwagon!
Build your own panzanella!
Cubed bread of choice – it’s easier to cut up before it goes stale, so if you know you’re not going to finish the loaf, do this part ahead of time.
Veggies/Add-ons of choice – artichoke hearts, nuts, etc. Cut these into bite-sized pieces.
Cheese – Since I’m making the rules, this is not optional!
Dressing – Whatever you’d like. You can use bottled dressing, but it’s pretty simple to throw together a custom vinaigrette to complement your flavor profile.
Basically, you just throw this all together in a big bowl, make sure everything is evenly coated with dressing, and let it sit in the fridge for several hours or overnight, stirring occasionally to redistribute the dressing.
Use enough dressing to coat everything, but don’t overdo it; you want the bread to get softly chewy, not soggy. You can always add more dressing after a few hours if your bread is still hard.
Hold out the super soft ingredients until you’re just about ready to serve. The last two times I’ve made this, I have put the avocado in with everything else and then remembered how squishy it gets. It’s best to keep the really soft stuff in a separate bowl, marinating in a bit of the vinaigrette, so that you can add it in at the last minute. This way your stirring/shaking won’t mash the soft bits into oblivion.
Pick out a bowl that looks too big. Now put that away and grab the next size up. Same principle as when you make a regular salad.
If you’ve got the grill going anyway, grill your bread before you cube it. This adds immense flavor!
Add a protein to round out your no-cook meal. Rotisserie chicken or leftover grilled flank steak would be fantastic additions.
Flavor ideas I want to try:
Brioche with candied pecans, grapes, strawberries, brie, and a balsamic and coconut oil dressing.
Kalamata olive bread with bell peppers, pepperoncini, marinated artichoke hearts, cold grilled steak, cubed feta (as opposed to crumbled), and a Greek dressing.
Basically anything you would put on a sandwich or in a regular salad!
What’s your favorite no-cook meal? Do you think panzanella will make it into your rotation? Let me know what combination sounds the best to you!