Puttanesca Panzanella—AKA Croutons with a Little Salad

Homemade croutons

Puttanesca Panzanella

Have you ever made fresh croutons? Big, fat, crispy, soft croutons fried in olive oil and made from the good bread you have to make an extra stop for? If not, this is my plug. Do it. Just do it (unless you're gluten-intolerant in which case I have made delicious croutons from cornbread too. If you're paleo, I can't help you. My ancestors are french and I'm sure they were eating something bread-like in their knuckle dragging days....maybe with flour from seeds they ground in their teeth in disgust over the visiting cave people's hideous taste in loincloths). 

Panzanella is bread salad usually made with stale bread. I made it with fresh croutons and added the components of puttanesca, the famous Italian sauce made from tomatoes, garlic, olives, capers and chili flakes that is said to be what Italian streetwalkers or "puttanas" made to lure customers. Kind of sad but the sauce is great.

But this salad really is about a good crouton and it's really worth your time. Not that it takes a lot of time but it takes a little minding so these get brown and crunchy but not too much so. Also you might singe the tips of your fingers if you try to flip these with your little digits (like I do). Worth it. Better than traditional panzanella made with day-old bread because the fried cubes hold up and stay crispy while the interior stays soft.

Puttanesca Panzanella

serves 4

1/4 cup kalamata olives, halved
1/4 cup crumbled Parmesan cheese
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon capers, drained
Pinch red pepper flakes
1-2  tablespoons red onion, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine all salad ingredients, toss and let sit for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

1 medium loaf high-quality crusty bread, preferably white
6 tablespoons olive oil

Cut most of crust off bread and discard or save for another use. Cut bread into 1" cubes. You should have about 4 cups.

Heat large heavy saute pan over medium high heat. You want the croutons to fit in one layer with room in between to flip. You may have to do these in two batches. When pan is hot add olive oil (just 3 tablespoons if you're only doing half) and when that is hot add bread cubes in one layer (they should sizzle but watch the heat so they don't burn). After two minutes or so (when underside is nicely brown) flip each crouton. Cook for another few minutes until brown and flip onto plate. Toss with salad vegetables and serve alone, or on a bed of greens.


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