Panzanella with White Beans and Feta

What we have here is basically a bread salad, and my family totally got on board with it last night, along with some grilled marinated chicken. Panzanella is, traditionally, a Tuscan salad of stale bread and tomatoes, often with other garden vegetables soaked in vinegar and olive oil. Tuscans really knew how to deal with their leftovers. I added some white beans and feta for a hearty salad that can be eaten on its own or with your protein of choice.

In a random turn of events, Bob had to drive to Klamath Falls on Tuesday, where he stopped at a bakery he apparently likes. I am not familiar with Klamath Falls beyond the fact it’s where my dad and brothers, and eventually my husband Bob, used to go bird hunting, so I was not expecting him to bring us anything. He did, though. He came home with a loaf of great sourdough bread and a large bag of croutons that inspired this recipe. He’s full of surprises after thirty years of marriage. I have to say, it was way better than him bring me pheasant full of shot.

Bob and me, roughly thirty years ago.

At the risk of sounding like a food snob (but really, who am I kidding?) I would not advise using mass-produced, pre-packaged croutons because they may lack the structure to succeed in this recipe. Instead, a hearty Italian, French, or sourdough bread will work best whether it’s been made into croutons from a local bakery or cubed and toasted at home. You could also grill day-old slices and cut or tear them to add extra flavor to the Panzanella.

Panzanella with White Beans and Feta

(4 servings)

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon grated garlic (one medium clove)

freshly ground black pepper, a few turns of the grinder

a pinch of red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons fresh basil

1/2 English cucumber, halved and sliced

14 ounces white beans (butter beans, cannellini, or garbanzo)

10- 12 cherry tomatoes

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 cup croutons or toasted bread

2 ounces feta

Chop or thinly slice about 1/4 of a large yellow, red, or white onion to yield about 1/2 cup. (I chopped it and later wished I’d thinly sliced it, but it doesn’t make a huge difference). Place the onion in a large bowl and toss in the red wine vine vinegar and salt. Doing this step first allows the onion to soak in the vinegar while you prepare the other ingredients.

Peel the garlic and grate with a Microplane or chop very fine. Toss the garlic in with the onion along with the black pepper and red pepper flakes.

Stack the basil leaves, roll them in a tube, and slice in thin ribbons (Chiffonade style).

Cut off half of the cucumber and reserve the other half for another use. Slice it in half lengthwise, then thinly slice it into half discs.

Rinse and drain the *white beans. Add them, along with the cucumber and basil and toss them with the onion.

*I found these cute little boxes of beans at Thrive Market.

Slice the tomatoes and add them to the salad. Toss in the olive oil.

Add the croutons and *feta.

*Crumbled feta is fine but I like to use the bricks because they have a smoother texture.

Allow the salad to sit for 30 – 60 minutes before serving so the croutons can absorb the dressing.

Serve on its own or with grilled chicken or fish. Enjoy!

Bob and I celebrated thirty years of marriage last month, but today would be my parent’s sixty-sixth wedding anniversary. The picture below is of my family celebrating their twenty-fifth at the Treehouse in 1980. I’m the eleven-year-old in pink.

Happy anniversary Mom and Dad! Thank you for teaching us the value of “spaces in our togetherness”.

     Love one another, but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of the lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Kahlil Gibran, Excerpt from On Marriage