What makes this version of panzanella truly special is the pieces of toasted homemade sourdough bread, delicious pan-fried chicken breast, and the Italian-style salad dressing that is so good that you could just drink it. All three are family favorites, and when combined together, they make one ridiculously good Italian bread salad or panzanella. So good in fact that you just can’t have enough of it. The salad is also fairly light and you could end up eating quite a bit before you know it. So, be forewarned and think about doubling the recipe.
Traditional panzanella does not include chicken, or Feta, but I love adding them for a complete meal. I think both make panzanella much, much better.
Some tips for making Italian bread salad taste best
- Make the vegetables and the dressing a few hours ahead, mix and let sit at room temperature to allow flavor to develop.
- Toast the bread pieces close to serving the salad. Do not mix in until the very last minute, or just simply place on top. If you mix the bread in too early they will soak up the dressing and become wet and soggy. Use good quality sourdough bread. Italian or French. Or whatever sourdough bread you like. Great bread makes great panzanella.
- The is best when it’s hot and fresh off the pan. Hence, I always cook the chicken right before serving the salad. Again, you can mix it in or just scatter chicken pieces on top.
- Fresh feta adds zest and saltiness to the salad. You don’t need much, a tablespoon per serving will do.
Italian Bread Salad (Panzanella) with ChickenPrint Pin Rate
- 3 chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
- Olive oil (for pan searing, as needed)
- 4 Tbsp Feta cheese (for garnish)
- 3 slices sourdough bread (Italian style, French or whatever you like)
- Olive oil (or melted butter, as needed)
- Garlic powder (to taste)
- Onion powder (to taste)
- 3 large tomatoes (fresh and fully ripe; tomatoes on the vine are a very good choice)
- 1 pinch brown sugar
- 1/2 English cucumber (fresh and firm)
- 1/4 large red onion
- 2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
- 1 pinch kosher salt
- 1 pinch black pepper
Italian salad dressing:
- 6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (very good quality)
- 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 garlic clove (pressed)
- 1/2 tsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- To prepare the vegetables for the salad, core the tomatoes, cut into 6-8 wedges, then cut each wedge in half. Place the tomatoes into a large bowl, sprinkle with a pinch of brown sugar, salt, and pepper, and toss really well.
- Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise, then slice it into 1/4" thick slices. Add the cucumbers to the tomatoes.
- Slice half of the red the onion into very thin slivers crosswise. Then cut the slivers in half, or leave as is, depending on your preference. Add to cucumbers and tomatoes. Add the chopped basil.
- To prepare the salad dressing, place all of the dressing ingredients into a small bowl and whisk together vigorously, until well blended.
- Pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss gently. Cover and let infuse with flavors at room temperature up to 6 hours. You can serve immediately as well, it will still taste great.
- To prepare the bread pieces, brush sourdough bread slices with olive oil or butter on both sides. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil on high until nicely browned, about 3-4 minutes. Then flip and continue broiling for another 3-4 minutes. Broiling should be done about 4-6 inches from the heating element.
- Remove from the oven, let cool then break into bite size pieces and set aside.
- Finally, to prepare the chicken, place chicken breasts shiny side down on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, score the flesh top - down and left - right at about 1/2" intervals, cutting almost all the way down but not cutting all the way through. This will allow the breast to cook quite a bit faster. Rub the breasts with a little bit of olive oil and season with salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder. Cover with a piece of plastic and pound slightly with cast iron pan to make uniformly thick.
- Heat a large skillet with a little bit of oil (about 2 tablespoons) over medium-high heat, add the chicken breasts, uncut side down. Cover, leaving a small crack open, and cook for 3 minutes. Flip and cook for another 3 minutes. Check the chicken for doneness. It should be done by now, let it cook for another minute and check for doneness again. Transfer to a cutting board and carefully cut into bite size pieces.
- To assemble the salad, portion the salad into individual bowls, sprinkle chicken and bread pieces on top, garnish with feta cheese and serve. Alternatively, you can mix the ingredients together, except feta, then garnish with feta and serve. To keep the bread crispy, don't mix them into the salad.