Panzanella: Italian for Crisper-Cleaning

panzanella salad

I have huge issues with wasting food. Huge. Like huge you wouldn’t believe huge. One of my least favorite things in the world is buying bunches of herbs that go bad in a week if unused. Sure, they’re not breaking the bank or anything at 1-2 bucks a bunch, but they are still going to get tossed into the garbage with all sorts of items it shouldn’t be caught dead with. Things like onion ends, chicken juices, and cat hair. Sheesh.

After months of thorough documentation and experimentation as well as calculating multiple iterations of statistical analyses, I concluded that herbs are the food ‘group’ that’s most wasted at my place. As you know, I freeze everything. I’ve been known to stick a whole bunch of basil in the freezer or even a handful of mint in hopes of them being used for thirst quenching mojitos. In general though, I try to avoid freezing herbs as they turn a nasty brownish black color and would not be amenable to many recipes unless pureed or cooked into a sauce. Ultimately, they too end up in the garbage with the other nastiness.

leftover veggies

So in order to avoid such wastage, I have slowly purchased potted herbs again this summer, all the while crossing my fingers and hoping I can keep them alive through August. Heck, July would be an accomplishment. But having herbage in smaller quantities has proven a little tricky in my meal planning, as previously I tried to use an entire bunch of herbs and chose weekly meals that would ensure use of them. In forgetting my switches to potted rather than plastic-bagged, I have run out of a particular herb a couple of times and had to make some last minute adjustments.

mixing it up

Which brings me to this salad. If you’ve heard of a panzanella salad, you might recall its many wonderful qualities: Italian-derived (yes, this is a quality), days-old crusty bread, fresh tomato slices, a nicely flavored olive oil, vinegar, and last but certainly not least, my favorite of all favorites, basil. Now tell me – can it get better than that?

top view panzanella salad

Survey says!!!: Yes. It can get much better, because you can add whatever the hell you want into this thing and it’s still a panzanella salad. Want some protein in your salad? Throw in some grilled chicken or maybe even some tuna. My thought is you keep the basics and add what’s leftover in your crisper so as not to waste those stragglers. It makes for a brilliant festive bowl of colors, textures, and flavors. And even better, it tastes different every time you make it.

panzanella plated

So, have some bread on your counter, in your fridge, or freezer? tomatoes? how ’bout some basil? You’re set. Load it up, and adjust the dressing as you go. Don’t be scurred 🙂

Leftover Panzanella Salad
Adapted loosely from Cooking Light, July 2009; serves 4

This salad is the epitome of adaptation. Use whatever you have in your fridge as a substitute or addition to what’s below. In most cases, you can’t screw this one up! I do however, recommend use of 1/2 cup of basil, rather than my meager 1/4 cup. But no big deal if you don’t have enough.

4 (6-oz) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 t Emeril’s essence or other spice combo
salt & pepper
2 cups (1-inch) cubed tomato
2 cups (1-inch) cubed ciabatta bread (~4 oz)
1 cup thinly sliced celery (~2 stalks)
1 cup thinly sliced carrot
1 cup thinly sliced sugar snap peas
1/2 cup fresh torn basil leaves (or other herb combo; I used 1/4 basil and 1/4 parsley since my basil plant was almost empty)
1/2 English cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (~1 cup)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
3 T red wine vinegar
juice from 1/2 of a lemon

Heat grill pan or outdoor grill over med-hi heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper, and spice blend, if using. If spice blend has salt, just add pepper. Spray or oil surface add chicken, cooking ~6 minutes on each side or until done. Remove from heat and chop into 1-inch cubes.

Place tomato in large bowl; sprinkle w/ 1/2 t salt and 1/4 t pepper and let stand for 5 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients, tossing well to combine.

9 thoughts on “Panzanella: Italian for Crisper-Cleaning

  1. the twins says:

    i have the same hate of wasted food and problem with the herbs. my family has started growing our own too, so hopefully it works well for us and for you.that panzanella looks great!

  2. Jenn Sutherland says:

    I share your hatred of food waste…and with our CSA, it's mighty hard to keep up, and eat everything by the time the next box arrives – Eeek! I tend to chuck bits and bobs of herbs, veggie trimmings, etc in a giant freezer bag for the next time I make veg or chicken stock – one easy way to make sure you get the most out of the veg remnants that gather in the fridge!

  3. Emily says:

    I like that you put chicken in the panzanella salad….it makes a side salad a salad for a meal. I think my biggest throw away item throughout the week produce wise is spinach. I buy 2 bunches per week and can never seem to get through it all. The minute I only buy 1 bunch per week though, I run out. Go figure.

  4. Heather says:

    @Scrumpy: PeaPod!? How awesome! I have always wondered who used their services but thought it was the best idea. Are their ingredients always fresh and in decent shape when the arrive? You rock :)@Jenn: That's why I gotta wait on the produce CSA. Definitely would waste a lot in school. But the mean is a serious option for the next time it's available. I also wish I had enough freezer space for a big tub of stock… :(@Emily: Spinach is a good one. I tend to also waste arugula because it doesn't last as long as it should.

  5. Kelly says:

    I hate the herbs-gone-bad syndrome, too. My solution (if your herb garden doesn't make it, I mean)? Cut the ends when you get them home, put in a glass of water that you change every day, and cover loosely with a plastic bag. Don't know why, but my herbs keep for 1-2 weeks (or longer) when I use this approach.

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