MOA Throwback Bread Salad (Panzanella)

3 Apr
Added this pic Sept. 17; panzanella, sadly, just does not make for the prettiest presentation. But I thought a better picture was in order.

Edit: Added this pic Sept. 17; panzanella, sadly, just does not make for the prettiest presentation, mostly because of the discoloration that balsamic vinegar produces. A better picture was in order, however. And trust me, it *tastes* fantastic! Yes, that picture was taken at night, when we ate at like 11 p.m., and the plates are indeed on my stove top. I'm so professional I can hardly stand it.

Once upon a time in a land we call “Happy Valley,” there was a small, upscale-for-campus café on the top floor of a beautiful university’s museum of art. Having spent my teenagehood behind the swinging doors of bakeries, working at the MOA Café, as we called it (Museum of Art Café) was not my first job in food. But it was my best. With the encouragement of managers who still top my list of favorite bosses and were liberal in letting me play with food, my education ran the gamut of food prep—blitzing through making focaccia sandwiches and toasting pounds and pounds of sugar-crusted almonds (which we usually felt compelled to test, for customer safety). Patrons were a mix of freshman students, most of which didn’t care much what was in their food, as long as their “magic” student meal card paid the bill—and visitors to the university who wanted classy, fresh food instead of Taco Bell. I still say it was the best place to eat on campus, and the place I’d take anyone who likes good food, such as a university donor or big-time visitor. Diane Keaton (with entourage) even dined there.

Near the end of my employment there, we brought out a new entrée salad—a bread salad. Unfortunately, I fear its crusty, balasamic-soaked bread and fresh (grilled?) vegetables may have been too “far out” for the conservative eaters at the MOA; I’m hoping we’re all just a little more sophisticated than they were.

I remembered this salad today as I contemplated the kinda hard end of a fantastic “rustic French country” loaf I brought back from a trip to Austin, TX. It’s a very simple, pleasing meal with nutritional bonus and the potential to be a one-bowl, all-food-groups meal. And ta-da, I used a fork (which I ate with later) and two small bowls to make it. Could I make life any easier for you? You’re welcome.

Give this a try! It would be even better in the summer, with vegetables from your (or your neighbor’s) garden, but it’s pretty good now.

Cheapie chart:
I’ll say it many times—you don’t have to spend a lot of money to eat a lot of good stuff. Here’s what this meal would cost, per serving:
.30 tomato, on sale for .99/lb
.40 cuke, on sale for .69/each
.50 bread, 2.19/loaf
.89 chicken, on sale at 1.80/lb
.50 cheese
.20 (olive oil + vinegar)

$2.30/serving! Seriously. So cheap. Okay, if you’re feeding the Midwestern Meateater (I’m married to), let’s say $2.75.

Tuscan Bread Salad (Panzanella) with Balsamic Dressing

This’ll take you, oh five minutes to put together, so take that, 30 minute meals (which purportedly no one can actually make in 30 minutes). A great use for leftover chicken breast and of bread that has gone a little stale.

A few ideas for variation: rotisserie chicken; fresh, torn basil or other herbs lending themselves well to salad (parsely, cilantro, arugula, maybe watercress). Dried herbs added to the dressing—rosemary, tarragon, thyme…use your imagination and resourcefulness. Also, any soft-ish vegetable, such as zucchini, would be great (grilled first would be even better!).

Bread: any bread with good chew on the outside and (used to be) soft on the inside. Needs to be crusty—that is the key, or it won’t soak up the dressing, which is what you want here. A few breads worth mentioning: ciabatta, pugliese, even cheap ‘ol French bread from your grocer’s bakery (day old is best and more affordable!).

If you like less tang, go easy on the balsamic, and if you like more tang, shake, shake, shake it out! (Make sure you taste test along the way—you can add but not take away!)

Nutritional status

I didn’t use a whole grain bread, but other than that, this bread salad is a very intact meal-in-one. The stars on this front are the vegetables and olive oil; tomatoes provide antioxidants (lycopene especially; it’s role in protecting from a variety of cancers is being researched), fiber, and the high water content in tomatoes is always a good thing. Cukes are high in vit. C and also up the fiber content. Olive oil has the most monounsaturated fatty acids of all the oils (77%)—don’t skimp on it. Use the best quality stuff you’ve got around, and preferably extra-virgin (it’ll give it a deeper olive flavor). This recipe is also low in salt, for anyone worried.

½ loaf crusty bread (I used a “rustic French country” loaf from Central Market)
1 ½ C cooked chicken breast, shredded
1 cucumber, sliced into medium-thick rounds
2 plum tomatoes
*Handful of parmesan, parmesan-reggiano, asiago, or other hard Italian cheese (not pictured; I did it afterward)

2 T balsamic vinegar
6 T olive oil
*1 clove garlic, smashed and diced into wee bits
Pinch of salt
Few grinds fresh black pepper
Couple teaspoons of basil

Two small bowls
A fork
Your two little hands



  1. Roughly tear bread into bite-sized pieces; I like mine about 2” long.
  2. Combine vegetables/chicken in one bowl. Set aside. Combine balsamic vinegar and olive oil in another bowl, using a fork to emulsify. Add garlic and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Combine bread and vegetables with dressing. Toss lightly until combined. Divide into four serving bowls and top with parmesano-reggiano cheese.

So good! I love the olive oil and the balsamic vinegar soaking up in the bread, plus the texture play here. Enjoy.


One Response to “MOA Throwback Bread Salad (Panzanella)”

  1. Jenny April 18, 2008 at 4:46 pm #

    oh my this looks tasty!

    I’m going to go nuts this evening with this and Heidi’s Strawberry Panzanella from 101 Cookbooks…mmmmmm……


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