Every barbecue needs a memorable salad and like a glorious sunset, the riot of color in this radicchio, roasted fennel panzanella with heirloom tomatoes was not about to be outdone by the grilled meats coming from the grill. I mean, why should the ribs or burgers get all the glory?
A panzanella or panmolle is a Tuscan salad of bread and tomatoes that’s popular in the summer. Traditionally, it includes chunks of soaked stale bread and tomatoes, sometimes also onions and basil, dressed with olive oil and vinegar. Naturally, like all salads, a panzanella is a blank canvas waiting for splashes of inspiration from the artist’s palette. Fennel is a vegetable that I haven’t really cooked with very much but have been seeing more frequently on restaurant menus – usually making a refreshing contribution to salads or soups.
Fennel is a crunchy, slightly sweet vegetable with a distinct anise flavor. Its bulb, stalk, leaves and seeds are all edible and it is closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander. Not knowing whether our friends were fans of fennel’s anise flavor, I decided on roasting the fennel to mellow it, rather than adding it to the salad raw. The result was a delicate sweetness which complemented the bitterness of the radicchio beautifully.
Another selling point of a salad made with hardy, leafy greens such as kale, chard or radicchio in this case, is that it holds up to dressing without becoming soggy, making it an ideal potluck, picnic, party dish, or work day lunch. Inspired by a a salad in Bon Appetit’s April 2014 issue, I created a lower fat, low sodium, vegetarian version by eliminating the salami, olives and all the salt in the recipe. I could not resist surrounding the panzanella with brilliant slices of heirloom tomatoes which could be replaced with grilled eggplant or squash in the fall and winter months. Radicchio is a leaf chicory, sometimes known as Italian chicory, with white-veined red leaves and a bitter and spicy taste, which mellows when it is grilled or roasted. I love the stuff, and appreciate Frieda’s Specialty Produce sending me two perfect specimens!
- 4 slices sourdough bread, torn into bite-size pieces (about 3 cups)
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced and roasted*
- 1 clove garlic, sliced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small head radicchio, torn into bite-size pieces
- 1 cup fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley leaves
- 3 ounces shaved Comte* or Manchego cheese (optional)
- 2 heirloom tomatoes, halved and sliced
- 1 small shallot, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano)
- Preheat oven to 400ºF. Toss bread with lemon zest and ¼ cup olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet, season with pepper. Bake, mixing occasionally until crisp on the outside but still chewy in the center, 8-10 minutes. Let cool and set aside.
- If you choose to roast the fennel to mellow the flavor, spread the sliced fennel on the baking sheet, add the sliced garlic and drizzle with a little olive oil. Roast for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare the salad ingredients. Whisk the shallot, lemon juice, vinegar, and oregano in a large bowl. Whisk in the ¼ cup olive oil and season with salt* and pepper.
- Add radicchio, fennel, parsley, cheese, and bread to the dressing; toss to combine.
I used French Comte cheese because it is lower in sodium than most firm, aged cheeses, but Manchego or Parmesan can be substituted. I also used no salt in the salad, but you may add salt as desired.
Nutritional Analysis: 360 calories/serving. Fat 26 g; Carbs 25 g; Fiber 3 g; Sugars 4 g; Protein 9 g; Cholesterol 15 g; Sodium 279 mg. Nutritional analysis by Edamam.