Tomato feta panzanella salad loaded with creamy feta cheese, lots of toasted garlic bread crumbs and a simple pesto dressing – easy, elegant, and absolutely delicious take on the traditional panzanella salad.
This tomato feta panzanella salad is a summer favorite that I’ve been making almost every week now. It’s a humble recipe at first glance but wait till you make it – it packs tons of flavor!
Traditionally the panzanella salad is made with whatever leftover veggies you have on hand, mostly tomatoes but also peppers, cucumbers and onions, and large quantity of old stale bread re-purposed by soaking in water first, then squeezed dry. Modern versions just use a day old bread but no soaking. I am going a little bit fancier here. Even though I love the messy look and flavor of the panzanella, this time I am aiming for a more elegant, layered version. I am using only tomatoes, and crispy garlicky bread crumbs to boot! The sweet juiciness of the tomatoes coupled with the bright and fresh taste of basil and garlic, the saltiness of the feta and the crunchy garlicky breadcrumb goodness on top – it literally sings in your mouth!
These are not just plain old bread crumbs – they are crunchy and full of olive oil and garlic flavor. And good old feta cheese is the icing on the cake (ughm.. salad). Because feta and tomatoes is a match made in heaven. If you’ve ever eaten a plain sweet tomato with a piece of creamy salty feta cheese, you know what I mean. In fact, this often was my breakfast, lunch or dinner in hot summer days when I was a kid. It is that good.
I am using copious amounts of pesto garlic dressing too. You can make your own pesto or use store bought here. The point is to get the basil and garlic flavor very pronounced.
Since the recipe has just two main ingredients, it’s all about the quality of these two. The rubbery, store-bought tomatoes will not do. For this recipe you need to get your hands on the sweetest, freshest, heirloom tomatoes you can find, preferably from the farmer’s market. Same advice for the feta – don’t buy the dried, crumbled feta cheese they sell in small plastic containers at the supermarket. A good feta cheese should be stored in brine to keep it moist. Some Costco stores carry a good French feta cheese. You can also find it at well-stocked Mediterranean stores. They usually have French, Greek or Bulgarian feta you can buy in bulk, and it’s cheaper than Costco. Ask to try a piece of each and choose which type you like best. They are pretty similar, but may vary in creaminess (depending on whether the cheese is made of cow’s or sheep’s milk).
If you really like this salad, you can also bake it, and make a tomato casserole! For the baked version though, you can use a meatier tomato variety like San Marzano, or Roma. Follow the same steps as in the salad, and bake for 30 min at 350° F. Serve at room temp or slightly warm. It tastes better than straight out of the oven. In the baked version, I also add some butter at the bottom of the casserole dish, and make my breadcrumbs with butter!
Sweet and juicy heirloom tomatoes layered with creamy, salty feta, and toasted garlicky breadcrumbs - a super easy, flavorful and elegant take on a traditional panzanella salad.
- 2 lbs ripe heirloom tomatoes
- 1 cup good quality feta cheese, crumbled *
- 1 cup garlicky breadcrumbs (recipe below)
- 1/4 cup garlic pesto dressing (recipe below)
- 5-6 slices of good quality Italian bread
- 2-3 garlic cloves
- 2 Tbs olive oil
- 2 Tbs pesto
- 2-3 garlic cloves
- 1/3 cup olive oil
Spread a few slices of Italian bread with olive oil and crushed garlic. Sprinkle with salt, cut into small pieces and mix with your hands so the oil and garlic is evenly distributed.
Bake in the oven at 300° F until they are crisp and golden (check on them often so they don't burn). Let cool, and pulse in the food processor until you get chunky bread crumbs - you don't want them to be too fine. Store in a dry place, and use in place of regular breadcrumbs for a boost in flavor.
Alternatively, you can make the breadcrumbs on the stove. First, process the bread in a food processor, until you get big breadcrumb pieces. Heat 2 Tbs olive oil in a pan, and fry
the breadcrumbs, adding salt, and the pressed garlic at the last two minutes of cooking. Fry them on medium heat, until they are golden brown, and crispy (5-10 minutes).
Mix the olive oil, garlic and pesto into a sauce. Add salt if necessary.
Slice the tomatoes in thin circles, and place a single layer at the bottom of the serving dish. Pour some of the dressing, some salt, a handful of breadcrumbs and crumbled feta cheese to taste. Repeat with another layer, finishing up with feta. Go liberally on the olive oil, and pesto dressing. Taste and adjust dressing if needed.
Devour and call it a dinner!
* Good feta comes in brine. Look for French, Greek or Bulgarian feta, sold in bulk, in Mediterranean/Middle Eastern stores.