Labor day is fast approaching and it typically leaves me a little stymied. Especially if I'm invited to a gathering and the hosts say, “Don't bring pasta salad, we've got that covered.”
Because then - of course - that's all I can think of to bring.
“Corkscrew pasta with dill and tomatoes!”
Nope. That's a pasta salad.
“Campanelle with mozzarella, olives and basil!”
No, sir. Not only is that pasta, it would also involve mozzarella sitting out for hours in the hot sun. Sweaty, warm mozzarella? No thanks.
“Blerg!” yells my inner Liz Lemon.
But then it dawned on me to make something that would actually improve the longer it sat out.
It's meant to be made the day that it's eaten, but it also loves time to marinate. And it's incredibly inexpensive – especially compared to pasta salad.
(No joke. Maybe it's just me, but I can't make a good pasta salad for a crowd that costs less than $15.00 Sure, the pasta is inexpensive, but it's the olives, the parmesan, the occasional oil-packed artichoke heart and capers that make my pocket book shiver.)
On the other hand, panzanella is meant to be made with ingredients that are dirt cheap this time of year. Also, if you're feeling particularly frugal, you can make the bread yourself and then it's even more inexpensive.
This salad also lends itself to what you have laying around. Do you have some cooked beans? Add them in. Do you have some bell peppers kicking around? Add those too.
I was lucky enough to have 4 types of tomatoes in my vegetable bowl from our CSA and the farmers market. We have a little basil plant that was groomed for the salad, along with a bunch of parsley in water.
So, for four dinner-sized salads, or 8 small salads, I was out of pocket $1.99 for a loaf of bread.
Not too shabby for something that bursts with flavor and is incredibly addictive.
Although I'm going to give a full recipe, it's more of a guideline depending on what you have on hand. The two tricks are to have day-old bread, and an equal ratio of tomatoes to bread.