How to CookSummer

Bruschetta + Caprese + Panzanella Meet in One Simple, Glorious Salad

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Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

Marcy Ragan's Grilled Panzanella Caprese
Marcy Ragan's Grilled Panzanella Caprese

Mashups of otherwise perfect standalone recipes can get clangy and complicated—you probably wouldn’t want to meld grilled cheese with wedge salad or pulled pork with pizza (or would you?).

Sometimes, however, their component parts overlap so naturally and harmoniously that bringing them together can only be additive, not muddying, making something that both honors the originals and gives you something distinctly memorable and new.

This is the path that led Marcy Ragan—a New Jersey-based caterer and personal chef who once lived in Perugia, Italy—to combine some of the key elements and tricks from three Italian summer classics: panzanella, grilled bruschetta, and tomato caprese.

The Venn diagram of all of these dishes, though born in disparate regions of Italy, have natural intersections that have led to plenty of mashups of two of the three (grilled panzanellas abound, as does the occasional panzanella caprese). But Ragan’s recipe is the simplest and smartest combination of all three I’ve seen.

Panzanella, from Tuscany, is a salad meant to perk up stale bread by soaking it with, typically, tomato, basil, onions, vinegar, and olive oil (Tuscan bread is traditionally unsalted, so flavor-wise, this is a big improvement). “The thought of using stale bread to make panzanella never really appealed to me,” Ragan says. “So I fired up my grill and decided to grill the bread instead.” (If you don’t have a grill, you can use a grill pan or broiler instead—you just want a good toast and a little char.)

Next, she borrowed a trick from the simplest, Roman form of bruschetta: toasted, olive oil–dribbled bread, gently swiped with a whole clove of garlic, which is both the easiest way to make garlic bread and the easiest way to garlic bread–ify anything else you’re making: more elaborate crostini, griddled sandwiches, fondue dunkers, six-minute egg soldiers, French (or Tuscan) onion soup croutons, and now panzanella.

Caprese salad, from the island of Capri, layers slices of mozzarella, tomato, and basil in a tidy, delicious interpretation of the Italian flag. Ragan’s recipe, already perfumed with basil, gets caprese-ed with the addition of cubed fresh mozzarella—a cold, creamy relief from the tang of tomato juice and vinegar, a little satisfying chew against squish and crunch.

The last trick that ties them all together is pre-salting the tomatoes while you prep the rest, both to season them well and to wick some of the juices (aka tomato water) away, to be re-deployed as dressing in exactly the amount you want.

And thus, Grilled Panzanella Caprese is born from influences all over Italy, with just five ingredients from the market and three from the pantry. I dare you to show me another threeway mashup that’s this simple, or this good.

Marcy Ragan's Grilled Panzanella Caprese

Marcy Ragan's Grilled Panzanella Caprese

Genius Recipes Genius Recipes
Serves 8 to 12
  • 1 sourdough boule (14-16 ounces), sliced about 3/4-inch thick
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, cubed into approximately 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 1/2 pounds fresh ripe tomatoes, cubed into approximately 3/4-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 to 2 large cloves fresh garlic, papery skin off and left whole
  • 1 cup good olive oil or extra virgin olive oil (you can use 1/2 cup regular olive oil for grilling and 1/2 cup good extra virgin for the salad if you prefer)
  • Sea salt or kosher salt, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
Go to Recipe

Photos by Rocky Luten

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].


Tags: Tips & Techniques, Genius Recipes