Food Daily Dish

Easy dinner recipes: 3 tasty variations for bread salad panzanella

Love salad but find it's too light to be filling? Add bread. Panzanella is a classic Italian bread salad, and it's a perfect way to use up extra bread and other leftovers lying around the house. Soaked bread cubes are combined with a variety of extras -- colorful greens, ripe tomatoes, perhaps onions or capers -- and tossed with a tart vinaigrette for a happy meal to end the day. Check out these recipes for inspiration:

Skewers are fun. Thread something -- almost anything -- on a stick and all of a sudden the food just seems carefree, even happy. For something on the lighter side, these bread salad skewers with sherry vinaigrette from Matt Armendariz are bright, colorful and oh-so-flavorful. And wonderfully easy, whether you're entertaining a house full of guests or simply serving the usual suspects.

Heirloom tomatoes and fresh herbs shine in this simple tomato-herb panzanella. Best of all? You can have this colorful salad on the table in about an hour.

RECIPES: 99 easy dinner ideas in about an hour or less

And isn't everything better with bacon? For a slight twist on this classic, soak the bread cubes in warm bacon grease and top with crumbled bacon. The recipe calls for canned tomatoes, but you can substitute fresh now that they're in season.

You can find all three recipes below.

And for more ideas, click through our easy dinner recipes gallery and check out our Dinner Tonight page, devoted to recipes that can be made in an hour or less. Looking for a particular type of recipe? Comment below or email me at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

PANZANELLA WITH SHERRY VINAIGRETTE

Total time: 30 minutes

Servings: 12 skewers

Note: Adapted from "On a Stick!" by Matt Armendariz.

24 (1-inch) cubes French bread (from approximately ½ loaf)

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 teaspoon garlic powder

Salt

Pinch black pepper

1/4 cup sherry vinegar

1/2 shallot, finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons stone-ground mustard

24 cherry tomatoes

24 small mozzarella balls (ciliegine)

24 basil leaves

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Toast the bread: In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes with 2 tablespoons oil, the garlic powder, one-half teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast until golden, 10 to 12 minutes, turning every few minutes.

2. Make the vinaigrette: In a medium bowl, whisk together the sherry vinegar with the shallot and mustard. Slowly whisk in the remaining three-fourths cup olive oil to emulsify. Season with one-eighth teaspoon salt, or to taste.

3. Onto each skewer, thread 2 toasted cubes of bread, 2 tomatoes, 2 mozzarella balls and 2 basil leaves. Just before serving, drizzle liberally with sherry vinaigrette.

Each skewer: 241 calories; 5 grams protein; 9 grams carbohydrates; .66 grams fiber; 20 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 15 mg cholesterol; 1 gram sugar; 222 mg sodium.

TOMATO-HERB PANZANELLATotal time: About 1 hour
Servings: 4

Note: Black tomatoes can be found at farmers markets (Jaime Farms) and selected grocery stores; you can substitute other medium heirloom or on-the-vine tomatoes.

1/4 cup good-quality olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

4 cups country white bread, preferably stale, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

Sea salt

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 small red chile, minced

4 medium black tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1 1/4 cups halved grape and/or cherry tomatoes, assorted colors

1/2 cup finely diced red onion

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon coarsely chopped oregano

1/4 cup coarsely chopped basil

1/4 cup coarsely chopped parsley

1 cup watercress

1. In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the bread cubes and salt and then toast until golden, tossing frequently for even cooking, about 10 minutes.

2. Add the minced garlic and chile and toss to coat the bread. Continue cooking for about 2 minutes, making sure the mixture doesn't get too brown. Remove from the heat.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the tomatoes, onion, vinegar and black pepper. Add the bread mixture and toss to coat. Let sit for about 30 minutes for flavors to combine.

4. Add the oregano, basil, parsley and watercress to the salad, toss. Check for seasoning, adding more salt if desired. Serve immediately, with a drizzle of olive oil.

Each serving: 270 calories; 5 grams protein; 30 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 4 grams fat; 15 grams saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 257 mg. sodium.PANZANELLA WITH BACONTotal time: About 1 hour
Servings: 8

Note: This recipe requires three-fourths cup bacon grease, probably more than you'll render when cooking the bacon below. If you fall short and don't keep any extra on hand, substitute best-quality olive oil. Frisée is also known as curly endive and chicory.

1/2 pound thick-cut bacon

3/4 cup bacon grease or best-quality olive oil or mixture of the two, divided

3 garlic cloves

1 stale French baguette, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

3/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 medium red onion, trimmed and cut lengthwise into 1/8 -inch-thick slices

1/2 cup Nicoise olives, or similar black brined olives

1/2 cup loosely packed torn basil leaves

2 tablespoons loosely packed oregano leaves

2 cups loosely packed torn radicchio leaves

3 cups loosely packed frisée

3 cups loosely packed mâche or arugula

1. In a large sauté pan, cook the bacon strips over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the strips are crisp, about 10 minutes. Drain the bacon on paper towels, reserving the bacon grease.

2. In the same skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease over medium-high heat. Add the garlic cloves and as many cubes of bread as will fit in a single layer (this may need to be done in a couple of batches). Toast the bread until golden brown on all sides, stirring frequently. Add additional grease as needed (the bread will soak it up as it toasts), up to 2 more tablespoons. Remove from heat and place the bread in a large bowl.

3. Make the tomato vinaigrette: In a large nonreactive saucepan, whisk together the crushed tomatoes, remaining one-half cup bacon grease, sherry vinegar, salt and several grinds of pepper. The grease will thicken as it cools; if necessary, heat the vinaigrette gently over low heat while whisking until the dressing is emulsified.

4. Pour half the dressing over the toasted bread and toss with your hands until the cubes are evenly coated. Add the onion, olives, basil and oregano and toss until evenly incorporated. Allow the dressing to soak into the cubes to desired tenderness, 10 to 15 minutes if you like the bread soft on the outside with a little crunch in the center.

5. When the bread is soaked, add the radicchio, frisée and mâche; toss to combine. Add additional dressing as needed to lightly coat the leaves.

6. Plate individual servings of the salad or serve in a large serving bowl. Crumble the bacon slices over and serve immediately.

Each serving: 379 calories; 9 grams protein; 30 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams fiber; 26 grams fat; 9 grams saturated fat; 29 mg. cholesterol; 888 mg. sodium.

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