This big, beautiful spin on panzanella—the classic bread and tomato salad from Tuscany—is everything I love about simple summer cooking. It brings together so many of the season’s gems: juicy sweet corn, ripe cherry tomatoes, fragrant basil, and peppery arugula—all united by oozy, pillowy burrata.
But the real stunner—the thing I find myself eating before the salad ever hits the table? The cacio e pepe croutons. Meaning “cheese and pepper” in Italian, cacio e pepe is a simple, well-known Roman pasta dish, but the cacio e pepe treatment can and should be applied to so many other things...like croutons! Through trial and error (and many loaves of bread), I landed on a two-step process for ensuring cheesy, peppery bliss in each toasty bite. First, tossing torn chunks of bread generously in cacio e pepe dressing (a riff on Canal House's melted parmesan dressing from Food52’s Mighty Salads) on a sheet pan, and second, starting with a cold oven when toasting the bread. This cold oven technique is not only a boon for hot summer days, the gradual climb from cold to hot prevents the dressing-soaked croutons from sticking and gently crisps them until they’re golden and crispy on the outside, still soft and chewy on the inside.
With this crouton method in hand, the sky's the limit when it comes to summery variations you can dream up from now until the season's end. Seared or grilled zucchini or eggplant, blanched green beans, charred peppers, and so many herbs and greens all have a home here. And because it’s sturdy and portable, the salad can effortlessly go from a make-ahead weeknight dinner to a show-stealing side at your next picnic or outdoor BBQ.
Test Kitchen Notes
It's the end of the long workday (or the start of an extra-long week) and we're hungry. Like, "can't-think-straight" hungry. Luckily, Food52 contributor EmilyC wants to do all the thinking for us. In Dinner's Ready, her twice-a-month column on weeknight wonders, Emily shares simple, flavor-packed recipes that'll have a good meal on the table in no time. —The Editors
- Prep time 15 minutes
- Cook time 15 minutes
- Serves 4 as a main course (more as a side)
- For cacio e pepe dressing:
(65 grams) finely grated Pecorino Romano
extra-virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste (I like a full tablespoon!)
- For rest of salad:
crusty bread (such as ciabatta), torn into bite-sized pieces (about 7 cups in total)
fresh corn kernels (cut from about 4 ears of corn)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
cherry tomatoes, halved
to 3 cups baby arugula
fresh basil leaves, small leaves left whole, or large leaves roughly torn
to 10 ounces burrata or good-quality fresh mozzarella, at cool room temperature
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano, for serving
- To make the dressing: Add the Pecorino to a large bowl, and whisk in the boiling water until the cheese is melted and evenly incorporated, about 15 to 30 seconds. Slowly whisk in the extra-virgin olive oil until emulsified, then add the black pepper. Reserve 1/4 cup of the dressing for assembling the salad (Step 5).
- Add the bread and corn to a sheet pan lined with parchment or a silicon mat. Season with a few big pinches of salt, then add the remaining dressing. (Don’t rinse the bowl you used for the dressing—you’ll use it in Step 4!) Using your hands, toss until the bread and corn are thoroughly coated on all sides with the dressing.
- Place the sheet pan in a cold oven, and heat to 375 degrees F. When the oven reaches temp, check the croutons. If they’re browning nicely, remove the sheet pan from the oven and flip them and stir the corn. (If not, keep baking for a few minutes longer.) After you’ve flipped the croutons, bake about 4 to 6 minutes longer (but could be a little longer or shorter depending on your oven), or until they’re golden and crispy on the outside, but still a little soft in some parts from the dressing. As they cool, they’ll continue to crisp up.
- Meanwhile, add the halved cherry tomatoes to the large bowl you used for the dressing. Season with a few pinches of salt and pepper, then gently toss them so they’re coated in any residual dressing clinging to the bowl.
- After the croutons and corn have cooled for a few minutes, toss in the tomatoes and arugula, and drizzle a little more of the dressing over the entire salad. Add the basil and big torn pieces of burrata or fresh mozzarella—then top with more grated Pecorino and black pepper, to taste. (Alternatively, assemble the salad on your favorite serving platter.) Serve at room temperature.