Mediterranean Sautéed Vegetable Panzanella

Panzanella is the perfect dish. On the one, it’s technically a salad and is usually bursting with fresh, lightly dressed vegetables that sing in earthy goodness. On the other, it’s full of bread. Toasty, crunchy, chewy bread. Panzanella is a study in oxymorons: A carby, filling, semi-unhealthy salad. But at least there’s greenery?

I remember when I first heard of this magical dish and, funnily enough, I have never had a panzanella prepared by anyone but me. In Carrboro, NC, where Chris lived his last two years of college, there’s an Italian restaurant called Panzanella. We went there on a date once and I left rather unimpressed. But I looked up the name of the spot afterwards and, behold! The bready salad of my dreams was revealed to me.

As I said, I’ve never actually eaten an “authentic” panzanella salad, although I’ve made my fair share of imitations and twists. This is yet another one I came up with to clear the fridge of lots of fresh summer vegetables I wasn’t quite sure what to do with. This panzanella is a hearty main dish for two to four people, or a unique side dish for your summer cookouts.

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Mediterranean Sautéed Vegetable Panzanella
Makes 2–4 servings

Ingredients:
For the dressing

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 15 leaves basil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • ½ cup water

For the salad

  • 1 small eggplant, cubed
  • 1 medium zucchini, cubed
  • 1 medium tomato, cubed
  • 6 oz mushrooms, sliced into bite-size pieces
  • ¼ red onion, sliced into thin strips
  • 3 soft pita, sliced into ~1 inch pieces
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 3 oz feta cheese, cubed

Directions:

Place all dressing ingredients in a blender and blend until liquid. There will be some separation between the oil and the water; this is fine. Just shake it up before use.

Heat a 12 inch pan over medium to medium-high heat. Add a 1 tbsp olive oil. When oil is shimmering, add all vegetables to the pan in an even layer. Let cook undisturbed for 5 minutes. Then stir, and let cook undisturbed for 5 additional minutes. Add ¼ of the dressing mixture. Cook for an additional 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the zucchini has softened and the tomatoes are starting to burst.

When the vegetables are done, pour them into a large bowl. Add the cubed feta while the vegetables are hot and stir to mix.

Add the sliced pita pieces to the pan and stir to soak up the vegetable juices. When the pan is becoming dry and the pita is starting to toast (about 1 minute), drizzle the remaining olive oil over the pita pieces. Toast and stir frequently until the pita is dark golden and most of the oil has been absorbed. Add the pita pieces to the vegetable mixture and stir gently to combine.

Serve in bowls with a spoonful of dressing ladled on top.

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