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Panzanella
Fast, Fabulous, Fresh Foods
Class 3 by Pat Mugridge

This month's recipe is Panzanella, an Italian bread salad. Chock full of strong Mediterranean vegetables in tangy vinaigrette with chunks of crusty, toasted bread to soak up the tasty juices, this salad is both hearty and light.

Red and yellow peppers, cucumber, red onion, and sweet, ripe cherry tomatoes mingle with briny capers in a red wine vinaigrette. French bread is cut into large croutons then toasted with a little olive oil and a sprinkling of salt.

The red wine dressing is good to use on other salads and vegetables, and the marinated vegetables are delicious by themselves or stuffed into some pita bread. When the toasted bread is tossed in and absorbs all the wonderful flavors, the salad becomes filling and satisfying, a real summer comfort food.

The vegetables used are good low calorie choices - cucumber comes in at only 8 calories for a half cup! The peppers, tomatoes,onions, and cucumber are high in Vitamins A, B6, and C, potassium, manganese, thiamin - well, the list just goes on and on. High in fiber, low in fat and sodium- these are all excellent and delicious food choices.

The flavors are amplified by the dressing. These ingredients are also good food choices and flavor enhancers. Capers add a salty, briny punch at only 2 calories a tablespoon while vinegar is only 3 calories a tablespoon. Both add a real depth of flavor while providing some nutrients as well.

The benefits of olive oil in a daily diet are well proved. Two tablespoons a day are said to help prevent heart disease, lower bad cholesterol, increase anti-oxidants, and a long list of other benefits. Consider adding these ingredients to other recipes both for taste and health benefits.

Panzanella

Croutons:

6 - 8 cups French bread cubes (about 1 large baguette)
Olive oil
Salt

Vegetables:

2 c cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cucumber, seeded
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 red onion
3 TBS capers, drained

Vinaigrette:

1 tsp minced garlic (about 1 clove)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 TBS sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
tsp pepper
3 TBS red wine or sherry vinegar
c olive oil

Cut the bread into 1" pieces - these should not be small croutons but nice size chunks of bread that will soak up the juices from the salad. Toss the cubes with olive oil to just coat, then sprinkle with salt.

Place the bread in a single layer on sheet pan. Toast in a 400 degree oven until golden brown, turning to toast all sides. Halve and seed the cucumber.

Cut the cucumber and peppers into 1" pieces, about the same size as the bread cubes. Slice the red onion thinly. Toss the vegetables and capers together.

Mix the garlic, sugar, mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper. Stir in the vinegar. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until thick and well blended.

Pour over the vegetables and allow to sit a bit so the flavors will mingle. This can be done well ahead of time.

To serve, toss the salad with the bread cubes. Allow a little time so that the croutons can absorb some of the dressing, but do not do too far ahead or the bread will get soggy.

Enjoy Panzanella as a light meal or a substantial side. Proteins such as feta or mozzarella cheese or even chicken and tuna could be added to the salad to make it a complete meal.

Give it a try - and check back next month for another healthy, fast, fresh fabulous recipe!

Classes made possible through the generosity of Hillcrest Family YMCA & Legacy Village Giant Eagle


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