The Perfect Summer Side Dish: Grilled Bread Salad!
I first fell in love with panzanella, the iconic Tuscan bread salad, back when I worked as a server in a fine dining Italian restaurant. The version we served had a mind-bending balance of hearty, satisfying textures & seriously fresh + bright flavors. Up until that point, I’d never had anything like it before in my life! I’ve been totally hooked ever since – it’s one of my favorite summer dishes.
Since I don’t always keep bread in my pantry, I don’t typically have dried-out bread on hand when a panzanella craving strikes. And since buying bread in advance to dry it out for a classic panzanella requires foresight & patience – admittedly not my strongest suits, especially during the summer months! – I turn to my grill to help speed up the process. By slicing it into hearty pieces & cooking it on the grill, the bread dries out to the perfect texture, all while taking on amazingly smoky, charred flavor.
Aside from grilling the bread, all you need to do to make this recipe is marinate juicy summer tomatoes with EVOO & red wine vinegar, creating a built-in tomato vinaigrette to toss with the char-grilled croutons & colorful veggies like bell pepper & cucumber. Simple, fresh, & downright craveable!
Grilled Panzanella Recipe Highlights
You will LOVE giving this traditional Italian dish a grilling season twist this summer. This grilled panzanella recipe is…
- LIGHT & FRESH. It’s a feel-good salad that’s totally loaded with vibrant, fresh flavor & crunchy, satisfying texture.
- QUICK & EASY. This vibrant tomato and grilled bread salad requires zero foresight – it takes 15 minutes to prep & uses less than 10 ingredients, most of which are summer staples you probably already have in your kitchen!
- BUDGET-FRIENDLY. Whether you’re using goodies from your CSA basket or you’re harvesting from your own garden, stretching your summer bounty with bread is a cost-effective way to keep your food budget on track. Plus, it’s delicious! 😎
A classic, reinvented! ♡ Read on to learn more about this Grilled Panzanella Salad, or jump straight to the recipe & get cookin’!
First, What is Panzanella Salad?
Panzanella is a classic Italian rustic chopped salad traditionally made with stale bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, vinegar, & whatever surplus veggies are on hand.
Dating all the way back to the 16th century, panzanella was originally prepared as a way to cut down on food waste. It’s said that the first iterations of this classic Tuscan & Umbrian bread salad were onion-focused, but tomatoes eventually became the staple ingredient in the 19th century. Despite its humble origins, panzanella has since become a national treasure.
Rather than using the traditional base of day-old bread, this grilled panzanella recipe calls for cooking hearty slices of bread on the grill. Doing so creates the dried out texture signature to classic panzanella, but also adds irresistible smoky, charred flavor. It’s a delicious summertime twist!
Key Ingredients & Simple Substitutions
The fun thing about this grilled bread salad recipe is that it’s made with really simple summertime staples. You need less than 10 ingredients, & most of them are probably already in your kitchen during the summer months!
Note: Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.
- Bread – It’s what this Italian salad is built around! Tuscan bread is the most traditional, but any crusty loaf works well. I’m especially partial to the tangy flavor of sourdough.
- Tomatoes – I like to use cherry tomatoes, but any variety will do. If you don’t have access to fresh summer tomatoes, opt for greenhouse-grown tomatoes – these are my fave!
- Olive oil & red wine vinegar – Together with the juicy sweetness of fresh summer tomatoes create creates a built-in panzanella dressing. So good! As always, use the best EVOO you can for dressings & vinaigrettes. I love DeLallo, which is always 100% extra virgin & 100% Italian.
- Summer veggies – Namely bell pepper, cucumber, red onion, & garlic, which give the panzanella loads of texture & a big punch of flavor.
- Herbs – If you have them on hand, a good handful of finely chopped fresh basil or parsley adds a ton of freshness.
- Cheese – Not necessarily traditional, but I can’t not add cheese. 😉 Shaved asiago is my go-to here, but other hard Italian cheeses like parmesan, pecorino, or grana padano work great too.
How to Grill Bread Perfectly Every Time!
If you’ve never tried grilling bread before, you’re in for a treat! The high heat of the grill dries out the bread, giving it a crispy texture with some rich, smoky flavor. It’s so good & it couldn’t be simpler to do!
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Perfect Grilled Bread Every Time. ⇢ Brush thick-cut slices of your favorite hearty bread generously with olive oil, then pop them directly on the grill. Grill 2-3 minutes per side, until they’re as crusty & charred as you’d like.
- Size matters. ⇢ Slicing the bread into thick pieces is absolutely key here as thicker pieces can take on a good amount of char without losing their texture completely. Aim for 1-inch thickness.
- Built-in flavor. ⇢ When you pull it off the grill, give the bread a good sprinkling of flaky sea salt. For an even bigger punch of flavor, rub a clove of garlic over the surface of the grilled bread.
- No grill? No problem! ⇢ If you don’t have access to an outdoor grill, feel free to use a grill pan or the broiler in your oven.
Panzanella Salad Assembly
Once the bread is grilled, panzanella salad assembly is really quick & simple. Here’s what you’ll do…
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Marinate tomatoes. Mix sliced tomatoes with olive oil, red wine vinegar, red onion, & garlic. Toss well to combine. Set aside to marinate for 20-25 minutes. Why? ⇢ As everything melds together, all of the seasoning draws out the natural juices of the tomatoes, creating a tomato vinaigrette with amazing aromatic flavor. This built-in vinaigrette is the panzanella dressing – easy!
Assembly. Once the tomatoes are juicy & fragrant, toss in the remaining panzanella ingredients: the grilled bread, bell pepper, cucumber, fresh herbs & shaved cheese. Taste & adjust seasonings as needed, then you’re ready to serve! Panzanella Tip! ⇢ It’s best to let panzanella salad sit for 5-10 minutes before serving, to allow all of the flavors to meld together & the grilled bread to soak in some of the dressing.
Make-Ahead & Meal Prep Tips
Grilled panzanella is best served fresh, so it’s not an especially make ahead-friendly dish. However, you can easily prep components in advance to cut down on active prep at dinnertime. Check the Recipe Notes, below, for full meal prep guidance!
Grilled Panzanella Serving Suggestions
As far as I’m concerned, this grilled panzanella salad recipe is the perfect summer dish. It’s smoky, crunchy, colorful, & fresh. It’s an excellent meatless main dish, but it’s also an easy add-on for any grilled protein. To make it a meal, try pairing it with…
Easy Panzanella Salad Variations
Extra garlicky! Rub a clove of garlic against the grilled bread while it’s still warm to impart the bread with some of its flavor.
Grill the veggies! For even more char-grilled flavor, toss the panzanella veggies on the grill. Slice the bell peppers into planks, the onions into wedges, & skewer the tomatoes, then season & toss on the grill for 3-4 minutes per side. Check out this recipe for more guidance.
Mix it up! Try different combinations of your favorite fruits & veggies. Kale, spinach, peaches, strawberries, avocados, & olives are all interesting additions to this bread salad. Have fun with it & choose whatever you love most!
Vegetarian or Vegan Panzanella! As written, this recipe is naturally meatless. To make it vegetarian, omit the asiago or use your favorite rennet-free cheese. To make it vegan, omit the cheese altogether or opt for your favorite dairy-free cheese.
Other Panzanella Salad FAQs
How to pronounce panzanella?
Just the way it looks – pan-zuh-nel-lah.
What is panzanella made of?
Traditionally, panzanella is made from a base of cubed stale bread, juicy summer tomatoes, fresh cucumbers, & summer veggies. For this recipe, we swap in grilled bread for a smoky, summer-inspired twist.
What to serve with panzanella?
This grilled panzanella salad is a delightful meatless main all on its own, but it also pairs beautifully with just about any grilled protein you can imagine! Try it with salmon, tuna, chicken, steak, or even grilled halloumi.
How long does panzanella keep?
Due to the vinaigrette-soaked bread cubes of panzanella, it’s a salad that’s best served fresh, immediately after it’s tossed together. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, but the sooner you can enjoy them, the better. Check the Recipe Notes, below, for some make-ahead tips!
I can’t wait for you to try this Grilled Panzanella Salad a try! Its textures are so satisfying, but its flavors are light & fresh – I think you’re going to love it just as much as we do!
If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations! ♡ Happy cooking!
More Recipes Like This:
Crave-Worthy Summer Salads
I first fell in love with panzanella, the iconic Italian bread salad, back when I worked as a server in a fine dining Italian restaurant. The version we served had the most mind-bending balance of hearty texture & fresh, vibrant flavor – I’ve been hooked ever since!
This particular grilled panzanella salad recipe was born out of desperation a few years back. Since I don’t aways keep bread in my pantry, the dried-out bread signature to the dish isn’t something that I typically have on hand when a panzanella craving strikes. Instead, I learned to turn to my grill to help speed up the process.
By slicing it into hearty pieces & cooking them on the grill, the bread dries out to the perfect crusty texture for a killer panzanella salad, all while taking on incredibly smoky, charred flavor from the grill. It’s so good! While the grill preheats, marinate some tomatoes with EVOO & red wine vinegar to create a built-in panzanella dressing, & from there, toss in whatever you like! I love crunchy-crisp bell peppers & cucumbers, but you can really have fun with this recipe & add whatever you like.
Be sure to check out the Recipe Notes, below, for some make ahead & meal prep guidance & the blog post, above, for serving suggestions & easy variations.
- 16 ounces cherry tomatoes or summer tomatoes of choice, halved or cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1/2 medium red onion, very thinly sliced
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped or grated
- 12 ounces sourdough, Italian bread, or hearty, crusty bread of choice, cut into 1-inch thick slices
- 1 medium bell pepper, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/2 seedless cucumber, thinly sliced (half moons or quarters)
- optional: big handful fresh basil &/or parsley, finely chopped
- optional: 1/2 cup shaved asiago
- kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season
- Marinate the tomatoes: Add the tomatoes to a large bowl with 1/4 cup of olive oil, the red wine vinegar, red onion, & garlic. Season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt & ground black pepper, as desired. Toss well to combine. Set aside to marinate & meld for 20-25 minutes. This is a great time to preheat the grill (Step 2, below) & prep the remaining panzanella salad ingredients: slice the bread, chop the veggies & herbs, etc.
- Grill prep: Preheat the grill for medium-high direct heat grilling, about 450-500 degrees F. Once preheated, clean the cooking surface by firmly brushing a wire brush over the grates.
- Grill the bread: Place the sliced bread on a small baking sheet or large plate. Pour the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small bowl, & use a pastry brush or silicone brush to brush each slice generously with oil. Season the bread with a good pinch of kosher salt. Place the bread on the preheated grill grates, directly over the heat. Grill 4-6 minutes, flipping the bread halfway through, until crusty & charred as desired. Transfer the grilled bread to the same baking sheet or plate. Once it’s cool enough to handle, dice the bread into 1-inch cubes.
- Panzanella salad assembly: Add the grilled bread, bell pepper, cucumber, fresh herbs (if using), & shaved asiago (if using) to the large bowl with the marinated tomatoes from Step 1. Toss to combine well. Taste & season with additional kosher salt & ground black pepper as needed. It’s best to let the panzanella sit for 5-10 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld & the bread to soak in some of the dressing. Serve topped with additional shaved cheese or fresh herbs as desired. Enjoy!
- Vegetarian &/or vegan grilled panzanella: This grilled panzanella salad recipe is naturally meatless. For a vegetarian version, omit the asiago or use your favorite rennet-free asiago. To take it a step further & make it vegan, opt for your favorite dairy-free asiago or parmesan instead or omit cheese altogether.
- Storage Instructions: Due to the vinaigrette-soaked bread cubes in this salad, grilled panzanella salad is best served fresh, immediately after it’s tossed together. If you don’t need a full recipe’s worth of servings, scale the recipe down so you can enjoy it all in one sitting. If you do have leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days – the sooner you can enjoy them, the better.
- 15-Minute Meal Prep: While it’s best served fresh (so not especially make ahead-friendly), you can prep components of this grilled panzanella salad in advance to cut down on active prep time required at dinnertime. Chop all the veggies & at dinnertime, grill the bread & toss together the saled – simple!
- Veggie prep: Halve 16 ounces cherry tomatoes, thinly slice 1/2 medium red onion, dice 1 medium bell pepper into 1/2-inch pieces, & slice 1/2 seedless cucumber into half moons or quarters, per the Ingredients List, above. Store in separate airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. (15 minutes active prep)
Keywords: panzanella, grilled panzanella salad, classic Italian bread salad, bread salad recipe
Recipe by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by KJ & Company, Kate Poskochil