I don’t play favorites when it comes to salads, but this grilled panzanella salad has my heart. It’s a damn fine one-bowl meal in its own right, or a stunning side dish to just about anything. Panzanella is traditionally made with day-old bread, ripe tomatoes and a simple vinaigrette. The bread soaks up the juices from the tomatoes and the dressing, turning soft and succulent in the middle while staying crunchy around the edges. In this version, a slew of grilled vegetables and fresh mozzarella turn the salad into a main course or hearty side dish. A zippy Italian vinaigrette brightens everything up. It’s crunchy, soft, creamy and vibrant—in other words, it’s one of the best salads ever!
Healthy panzanella salad
As a kid, I used to dip Wonder Bread into bottled Italian dressing as an afternoon snack (oh, to be a child of the ’80’s!). It’s no wonder that when I first tasted panzanella salad in my early twenties, I fell fast in love. The bread—which was a much upgraded Italian loaf—had soaked up the (homemade) dressing and the juices from ripe summer tomatoes. Heaven. I’ve been making big panzanella salads as one-bowl dinners ever since. I now use a gluten-free baguette (you can use regular bread if you’re not GF), and every version is slightly different according to what we have on hand. This one was born after I tossed in a bunch of leftover grilled vegetables. The smoky vegetables with the sweet tomatoes was a perfect match. I eventually cut back on the bread (thanks to the veggies you don’t need as much), and I added fresh mozzarella cheese for protein. It’s a healthy dinner that’s become a staple.
Simple panzanella salad recipe
Instead of using day-old bread in this recipe (as is traditional), the bread is grilled instead. The grill dries out the bread slightly, helping it to soak up all the flavors. The vegetables are also grilled (meaning no hot kitchen!). The cooked vegetables and bread are chopped then mixed with ripe tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh basil and a homemade dressing.
Panzanella salad dressing
Speaking of which… The dressing for this panzanella salad recipe is a bracing Italian vinaigrette made with red wine vinegar, garlic, shallot, dried oregano and an anchovy. The anchovy adds depth and complexity but you won’t taste it (you can omit it for a vegetarian version). I use equal parts vinegar and olive oil so that the dressing has a bit of an edge, allowing it to cut through the richness of the bread and vegetables.
Versatile panzanella salad
You can tailor this recipe according to what you have on hand or what you like. Feel free to use other grilled vegetables, such as eggplant, mushrooms, corn or asparagus. You can also swap out the mozzarella for other forms of protein, such as grilled chicken, canned white beans, feta cheese or good quality jarred tuna. Sometimes I like to add in a handful or two of grated parmesan (in addition to the mozzarella) simply because parm makes everything better (am I right?).
How to grill vegetables for panzanella salad
In the summer we often grill off a big batch of vegetables, which we eat as a side dish or toss into salads like this. It’s easy to do, and the grilled vegetables can be made a few days in advance.
- Peppers: Cut bell peppers into 2-3-inch pieces so that they can lay flat on the grill (and not fall through the grates!). Start the peppers skin-side down to blister the skin. Cook them about 3-4 minutes per side.
- Zucchini: Cut zucchini lengthwise into 1/2-inch thick slabs (zucchini cooks rather quickly and turns mushy when overcooked, so thicker is better; also, the longer slabs mean no zucchini coins lost to the grill!). Cook about 2 minutes per side.
- Onion: Slice a peeled onion crosswise into 1/4-inch thick rings. Grill 3-4 minutes per side.
What to serve with panzanella
This panzanella salad is delicious on its own as a healthy main course, but it’s also a fabulous side dish to grilled fish, chicken or steak. I love to spoon it over grilled sea bass or halibut, or to pile it on top of pounded grilled chicken breasts. The salad is also perfect for potlucks, especially since it can be made ahead of time.
Other healthy one-bowl meals to try:
Get the recipe!
Healthy Grilled Panzanella Salad (gluten-free friendly!)
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 large clove garlic, grated on a microplane
- 1 tablespoon minced shallot (about 1/2 small shallot)
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 anchovy, rinsed and finely chopped (optional)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 medium zucchini, trimmed, cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slabs
- 2 medium yellow bell peppers, cored and seeded, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 medium red onion, cut into 1/4-inch thick rings
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- ½ loaf Italian bread or 1 small gluten-free baguette* (see notes), cut into 1-inch thick slices
- 2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
- ½ cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
- ½ pound fresh mozzarella, cut into ½-inch pieces
Make the vinaigrette
- In a small bowl, combine the red wine vinegar, grated garlic, shallot, oregano and anchovy (if using). Season with salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil. Do Ahead: The vinaigrette can be refrigerated for up to 1 week
Grill the veggies and assemble the salad
- Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium-high heat.
- Put the zucchini, peppers and red onion slices on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil and the balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Toss gently to coat. Grill the vegetables, flipping once, until they’re crisp-tender with grill marks on both sides, about 2 minutes per side for the zucchini and 3-4 minutes per side for the onion and peppers. Transfer the vegetables back to the baking sheet, and let cool. Do Ahead: The grilled vegetables can refrigerated for up 4 days before using.
- Grill the slices of bread until toasted with grill marks on both sides, about 1-3 minutes total.
- Cut the vegetables and bread into 1-inch pieces, and place them in a large bowl. Add the tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the salad sit at room temperature for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. Before serving, toss the salad and taste it again—add more salt and pepper if needed, and if the salad tastes a bit flat, drizzle in a bit more red wine vinegar (the flavors will mute as it rests). Enjoy!
- If you don’t have an outdoor grill, you can use a grill pan like this. Or, you can roast the vegetables instead. Chop the vegetables into 1-inch pieces, toss them on a large baking sheet with the a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and roast them at 400 degrees until tender, about 20 minutes.
- I use one small Udi’s Gluten-Free French Baguette (half a package) for this recipe, but you can half a loaf of Italian bread or half of a regular baguette instead. Instead of grilling the bread, you can toast it in a 400 degree F oven until crisp, about 5-10 minutes.
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