On his second plate, in between hoards of buffalo wings, hot dogs, and hamburgers (at which I turned my head and averted my eyes) my father turned to me and said, “Why does this have so much bread in it?”

We’d already gone over the etymology of the word “panzanella”.  Twice.

Latin.  Pan = pane = bread.  Bread salad. A traditional Florentine dish made to use up any stale crusty bread before it went to waste.

Basically a clean-out-the-fridge meal from a time before there were fridges.


“You took Italian in college, dad!” I shrieked.  “Why is this so incomprehensible?”

“It’s from Florence?” he asked, a frown encasing his face, completely oblivious to my line of questioning.

Bastardo,” he muttered under his breath.


I sighed.  Being almost entirely Sicilian, my parents have a hard time understanding anything that’s Northern Italian.

Never mind that they were born in the US.  Speak only enough Italian to barely get by (by which I mean, they know how to curse and ask for cheese).  And live off of barbecue sauce and hot dogs.  (Something that true Sicilians would surely disapprove of.)

The prejudices have somehow traversed the Atlantic Ocean, as well as two completely Americanized generations, and have gotten implanted into my parents’ heads along with other ridiculous notions.  (Such as the fact that chicken really and truly is a meat.  My mother still refuses to believe it.  And so while my father was busy cursing out an entire half of his precious homeland, she spent the entire afternoon muttering to herself, “No, no.  That can’t be right.”)

But I’m working on breaking them down.  We started with risotto, which they now love with unbridled passion.  Polenta is a work in progress.  And now, considering the fact that they ate multiple helpings of the panzanella even though it had beans and vegetables (the HORROR)…I’m thinking they’ve been lured over to the dark side.  Bread excess notwithstanding.


This week at Eat.Live.Be. we are talking about what makes us happy.

After much reflection on this subject, I’ve realized that at age 24, I’ve turned into an Italian grandmother.  I live to feed.

To dig my fingers into pastry dough.  Or boil up a pot of chickpeas.

Nothing makes me happier than seeing how happy my food can make other people.  Especially when that food is also nourishing in a deliciously healthy kind of way.  It’s rare that I can get my family to eat a whole bowl full of vitamins and minerals.  But when I can.  The feeling that accompanies it is priceless.

So what makes you happy?  Leave a message in the comments and be sure to check out these other Eat.Live.Be-ers!


This panzanella was born of a need to create a dish that could double as a main dish for me and a side dish for my family on Father’s Day.  While most bread salads are just mixtures of bread and tomatoes, I bulked this up with asparagus, leeks, beans, lettuce, and tomatoes and seasoned it with my favorite flavor of summer – pesto.  In the end, the bread cubes soaked in the glorious pesto and tomato juices, becoming deliciously soft bites of heaven with the veggies melting into that flavor burst.  The perfect salad for father’s day or any other spring/summer afternoon in the sun.

Spring Pesto Panzanella
Serves 8, an Eats Well With Others Original

1 loaf ciabatta bread (about 11 oz)
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 tbsp parmesan cheese
1 lb asparagus, cut into 1-inch slices
6 leeks, green parts removed, thinly sliced
2 cups white beans or flageolets
5 tomatoes, chopped (I used kumato tomatoes)
1 (8 oz) jar sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
1 head butter lettuce (from my CSA!), leaves shredded
1/3 cup pesto
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400.  Cut the ciabatta into cubes (or tear it into small pieces).  In a large bowl, mix it with the 1/4 cup olive oil, minced garlic, and parmesan cheese.  Place it on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently.  Set aside to cool.  Leave the oven on.

2. Spread the asparagus and leeks on a second baking sheet.  Spray with cooking spray and sprinkle lightly with salt.  Roast for 15-20 minutes or until asparagus and leeks are starting to brown.  Set aside to cool.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the bread cubes, asparagus, leeks, white beans, tomatoes, lettuce and sun-dried tomatoes.  Mix in the pesto and balsamic vinegar so that everything is evenly coated.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

I am submitting this to:
Meatless Mondays hosted by Chaya of My Sweet and Savory
Maniac Meatless Mondays hosted by Rebecca Jean of Midnight Maniac
Souper Sundays hosted by Deb of Kahakai Kitchen


You are reading this post on Eats Well With Others at Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and or owner of Eats Well With Others. All rights reserved by Joanne Bruno.
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110 Responses to Spring Pesto Panzanella…Eat.Live.Be

  1. Amazing, you didn’t even have to throw in bits of bacon or ham in the panzanella to help in the transition. Soon your family will embrace Meatless Mondays! I understand those prejudices, even if the family is born in another country. I can totally relate through personal experience!

  2. I don’t think I would ever complain about too much bread in anything:-) I also get SO much joy from feeding people. I love when I have time to make a delicious healthy meal at home or just the joy that homemade desserts bring to people!

  3. Nina says:

    Perfect summer Panzanella, Joanne! Love that you mixed in asparagus, leeks, beans…my kind of lunch or dinner!

  4. I just saw a recipe for panzanella in a food mag but it has nothing on yours! This looks incredible! My next dish for sure!

  5. Joanne says:

    This recipe clinches it. You need to open a NYC bistro and call it Just What The Doctor Ordered.

  6. You have great stuff in your frig, that salad looks delicious!

  7. My goodness you have created the perfect salad!

  8. I guess I too am an Italian grandmother – I love to make people happy with food, either by feeding them, teaching them to cook or selling them great food from our store. It turns me molten! Love the story and the panzanella!

  9. mmm love panzanella, have never added asparagus in

  10. Just What The Doctor Ordered, love it! 🙂

    Anyways, this looks great, Joanne! I, too, have resorted to eating a main dish for what the rest of my family consider a side dish. 🙂 Whipped up the bbq mango beans again this weekend to feed all the poor souls helping us move. With a side of hummus and veggies, I was content. Everyone else also had hamburgers. 🙂

  11. Anonymous says:

    Panzanella is one of my absolute favorite things. I love the pesto idea but I bet it would also be perfect with some sundried tomato and thyme vinaigrette.


  12. You’re not an Italian grandmother… you’re a Jewish Bubby! 🙂

  13. girlichef says:

    Me thinks there are many worse things to turn into than an Italian grandmother 😉 Live to feed…indeed. This sounds delicious!

  14. Kristen says:

    I have been craving panzanella for three years. It seems that every one in my family has a fear of soggy bread, so I continue to wait for my bread salad ship to come in. In the mean time, I will sit and drool over yours. It sounds incredible with all of those extra ingredients.

  15. Suman Singh says:

    This looks the variety of colors on that plate..

  16. Danielle says:

    This sounds great-I love the additional veges and beans you added to this.

  17. Kalyn says:

    Wow. This looks just amazing; such a nice twist on the traditional panzanella.

  18. Amy says:

    A kicked up version of panzanella – I would expect nothing less from you. We had an amazing Abalone dinner yesterday – fresh picked from the Pacific by my BIL. It was SO incredible! Then we proceeded to pass the Father’s Day cards around and watched the tears of laughter roll down everyone’s face.

    Oh, and did I mention I made brownies with caramel and pecan sauce? You can imagine how those went over. NOM.

  19. Luigi says:

    I like, I like, I like! 🙂

    My wife is similar to your father (no no facial hair lol) she hates bread in things, personally though I love it.

  20. What a beautiful salad. It is so much easier to eat healthy in the summertime when great produce is available in our farmer’s markets. Love the pesto dressing.

  21. A great looking salad (and healthy too)! The best gift for Father’s Day!

  22. Jessie says:

    Good for you for easing these delicious foods into your family’s diet. As a PhD/MD student, you obviously embrace challenge – and boy, it sounds like you had it here. The one and only time I made panzanella was last summer after returning from China, and boy, oils and bread and fresh veggies was JUST what I needed at that point. In fact, I believe that would make me very happy this summer 🙂

    Have a great week, Joanne!

  23. Trying new foods gives me joy. I just love new flavors. Congrats to you on expanding your family’s food horizons. It can be hard, I know!

  24. Lora says:

    I’ll take bread in my salad every day they all look like this one. Gorgeous!

  25. Miriam says:

    Awesome recipe! I want to eat that right off of the computer screen!!! Miriam@Meatless Meals For Meat Eaters

  26. Holy crap I love a panzanella! I forgot about them!

  27. I love Panzanella bread salad. MY husband goes mad for it. We even bought a loaf last night just for that very thing. I like the idea of adding beans and asparagus to it. I’ll be stealing that!

  28. Pam says:

    I too live to feed. I think this panzanella looks fantastic – I could eat just this for a meal and be perfectly happy!

  29. Your family stories are hilarious! I love the dialogue between you and your dad, shrieking included!

  30. Sanjeeta kk says:

    I make something similar to this from stale bread..bread Upma. And this sounds like exciting international treat 🙂

  31. Patsyk says:

    Now this is a fabulous salad that would make a perfect main course for me! I think my family would be concerned about all the bread in it as well. LOL!

  32. ~Chris says:

    OK, this post actually made me hungry! We’ve had panzanella a few times, but I haven’t tried it myself. This version will probably be my first. Thanks! 🙂

  33. Kelly says:

    What a fabulous salad – I particularly like the hearty factor – going beyond tomato with the white beans, leeks and asparagus – gorgeous!

  34. Shannon says:

    Aww you are going to be the cutest Italian grandmother. I mean, Nonna.

  35. crustabakes says:

    ohhh. I feel the same way too when i cook for other people. Although the things i make may not be the healthiest foods ard. lol.

  36. Ada says:

    haha you totally are an Italian grandmother! Albeit, a very hip one. That panzanella looks amazing, perfect for a hot summer day. All of your posts involving your parents, by the way, are absolutely hysterical:)

  37. Tammy says:

    Wow, that is one gorgeous photo!!! This salad looks so fresh and enticing! YUM!


  38. aipi says:

    I want to eat this right now ~ looks superb and delicious and yummy and what not! 🙂
    US Masala

  39. Love the twist on panzanella. Makes me rethink this hearty salad. It could be any great combination of vegetables. Another great way to get more veggies.

  40. Shannon says:

    cooking/baking for others definitely makes me happy 🙂 and love this. i need to make panzanella. and polenta. can i come for a visit? 🙂

  41. Italian grandmothers are the best! 🙂 sounds delicious & refreshing…perfect for this time of year.

  42. Ahhhh… Bastardo. I play on line poker with some Italians occasionally. I recall a hand where I was able to build a straight and beat my Pisano’s flopped trips. there were a string of Italian (which i did not recognize) words, followed by Bastardo… which I did.

    As to the food, I just love this idea (would love to add this to some form of eRecipeBox). Been making savory bread puddings for a while, this just ups that ante

    Although it was Father’s Day, kick in a little Chorizo for the ol’ bastardo 😉

  43. Love to read your entire posts 🙂

    Absolutely adoring this recipe, sounds perfect and as you said, clean the fridge kind of recipe 🙂

  44. Oh my, I am your parents but French 🙁 I actually ran a couple of Southern Italian based restaurants with a Mediterranean influence and had many Northern lovers questioning everything 😉 This is delightful and I am sure you will persuade your dad to the “the love of good food” regardless of origin 🙂

  45. Corina says:

    Panzanella is one of the things on my to make list right now. Yours looks great – I love the way you’re getting your parents to be more adventurous.

  46. Food definitely makes me happy! Is it OK that I just had lunch before checking out this recipe and now I’m hungry again?

    Camila Faria

  47. Isn’t it interesting that we have certain prejudices against things, people or places just because we think wer’re supposed to? To much energy for me, although I do think people who wear UGGs here in Phx. Are a little goofy. 😉
    This is so great. I L.O.V.E. My veggies as you know and the only bread I really care for is crusty, artisan breads. I’m thinking a good garlic rosemary filone (recipe on my blog btw) would be FAB in this panzanella.

  48. Charissa says:

    Haha, just asking for cheese…you have your priorities in the right place…pretty sure.

  49. “After much reflection on this subject, I’ve realized that at age 24, I’ve turned into an Italian grandmother.”

    This made me smile.

  50. tigerfish says:

    I like that you made it much more substantial with asparagus, leeks, beans, lettuce etc. 🙂

  51. Deborah says:

    If this is what the dark side looks like, I’m crossing over!

  52. teresa says:

    mmm, panzanella is so good, i don’t eat it near enough. i love all of those great veggies in there. delicious!

  53. That is a delicious-looking panzanella, Nonna Joanne 😉 There is nothing more satisfying than creating a dish that people enjoy eating.

  54. Katie says:

    That’s hilarious. My Dad always questions my food, too. 🙂

  55. Kim says:

    Well, when you go adding beans to recipes then you know it’s going to win me over. This looks even better than the traditional panzanella.

  56. Natalie says:

    I have to use the same techniques to get my dad to eat vegetables as I do my children. And I have better success with my kids most of the time. 🙂 I completely understand your transformation into an Italian grandmother. I’ve turned into a grandmother, too, but a Southern one. (Without as much butter and mayo.) I feel the same urge and get the same satisfaction from feeding people I love. (And even people I don’t love.)

    I’ve got a half a bottle of pesto in the fridge. I love panzanella. I think this was destiny.

  57. Pesto and asparagus..made for eachother! I am going to go get fresh bread and let it get stale just so I can make this.

  58. Mary says:

    Joanne, it looks exceptionally delish. It’s not surprising that second helpings were the order of the day. I hope you have a great evening. Blessings…Mary

  59. Lol @ turning in to a Nonna haha. I know what you mean though – the look on people face as they eat the food you made, its great.

  60. YUM!! Bread salads are always welcome in my house =P

  61. Julie says:

    yum! this also kind of reminds me of that salad with the canteloupe in it hahaha idk i’m not good at italian things but i am good at salad 🙂

  62. Pierce says:

    You are so hilarious! That’s a great post, a great salad…fun times.

  63. For as long as they know how to ask for cheese…i’d say it’s enough heheheh

  64. Vanessa says:

    I love a good panzanella salad! Yours looks delicious.

  65. Oh your family cracks me up. 🙂 My Dad is equally loopy about his heritage. He will eat/do/buy ANYTHING that has to do with Denmark whether he likes it or not. 🙂

  66. Jeanette says:

    I love all the different vegetables and beans in your panzanella, a wonderful summer meal!

  67. gotnomilk says:

    How luscious-looking. This must be seriously good!

  68. This looks amazing! I’m moving to Italy in a month, I’m so excited for all the fabulous food!

  69. Juliana says:

    Joanne, I never had panzanella…very hearty with all the vegetables. Great meal!
    Have a great week 🙂

  70. Little Inbox says:

    Fabulous looking salad.
    I feel so stress when I prepare food for the others. If they like it, then it worth all the efforts.

  71. Dana says:

    I think you probably know how I feel about salad – the more “stuff” in it the better. This is my kind of deliciousness. I actually prefer panzanella to not be totally weighed down by bread, it looks like you have just the right balance here.

  72. I adore panzanella…veggies…the more, the merrier!

  73. Candace says:

    I have always wanted to try panzanella; but, my husband is not a huge fan of tomatoes which have always been such a huge part of any recipe that I’ve seen. Yours, on the other hand, would be perfect. It looks absolutely amazing, Joanne! It’s a must-try! By the way…the carrot cake cookies were a HUGE hit at the Dads and Grads party this weekend. My family LOVED them! Thanks!

  74. Johanna GGG says:

    your parents sound hilarious – and I sometimes take along a salad to family meals that will have everything I need to eat in it – this is just the thing – I love the white beans in it – saw a panzanella with chickpeas just recently which was not quite right but your beans seem perfect. BTW I think that I don’t toast my bread for panzanella but that it is just too stale to eat any other way

  75. I too have often questioned panzanella, despite knowing what it is. It’s a strange concept, except when you remind yourself it was created to utilize stale bread. This one looks like a particularly delicious one. Anything with pesto, bread especially, is usually a winner!

  76. Barbara says:

    I do love panzanella! Yours is chock full of good things, Joanne. I’ve been making Ina Garten’s for years. Think I will try yours next…

  77. Panzanella is one of Charles’ favourite salads. I love how you healthied this one up even more with the beans.

  78. Faith says:

    You’re too funny, Joanne…cursing and asking for cheese are definitely the most important language skills, so I can’t blame your folks, lol! This panzanella looks amazing…the beans are the perfect way to make it a full meal!

  79. I wish you were my personal chef. This looks like perfection.

  80. Anonymous says:

    If your parents are originally from Sicily, and you want them to cut down the meat they eat… go for Pasta alla Norma. It’s a tomato sauce that has bits of fried eggplant inside. Put some basil inside the tomato sauce while cooking. Instead of parmesan, you should grate some dried ricotta chesse on top, but the sauce is so good you can use parmesan or pecorino (sharp goat cheese). Not that I want to give you advices, you seem not to need them. I’m an italian fan of yours, and taking this opportunity to tell you how much I like your blog. Ciao bella, keep up with this graet work!

  81. bellini says:

    My Italian friends just came back from Italy and said one of the new favourites for kids over there is pizza with hotdogs and fries on top.Times sure change! Saying that I love this version of panzanella, much healthier.

  82. This is just my of dish- I LOVE to snack on stale crusty breads with EVOO.I loved the “bastardo”…you made me laugh out loud at 8 in the morning!!! Your dad is so cute.I think men are like that way only- they have their own concepts about food & other things- Like my husband keeps on asking me why is butter chicken “supposed” to have orange color? I dont have an answer!

  83. Catherine says:

    Dear Joanne, It is a pleasure to see your loved ones enjoy food that is healthy and so very delicious!! I cringe at the idea of wasting time and money on food that is empty!!. This salad is a compliment to your Italian roots. Ciao, Catherine xo

  84. Veronica says:

    ahahahaha, your family, or at least your stories about them, always cracks me up! Which is exactly why I gave you the Happiness 101 blog award today–go check it out! (How appropriate that your post today is about happiness, right? so cool!) I have to tell you, I thought I found your blog page on Facebook and left a comment about the award there…only to find out this was a completely different blog. Oops. Talk about embarrassing. So I tracked you down and went ahead and friended you in case I ever feel the need to comment on your page again, this time I will have the right one. Bah!

  85. woww.. that looks yummy and crunchy and delicious 😀 Yummm

  86. Allison says:

    This panzella looks amazing. Parents are so funny. I am glad feeding others makes you happy because you have a gift. Your blog posts feed me with inspiration. THX!

  87. I didn’t know you were a fellow Siciliana! I knew I liked you for a reason 🙂 This looks delicious. And btw, we were in the city all weekend…next time, I’ll have to look you up so you can meet us for a drink!

  88. Big Dude says:

    Having grown up with lots of italians, many of whose grandparents were first generation Americans, I can just picture some of your family discussions

  89. Nadji says:

    J’aime beaucoup cette recette. Délicieux.
    A très bientôt.

  90. fantastic salad keep meaning to make it 🙂

  91. Hannah says:

    Ha! Some people will just never get it, or be able to appreciate the greatness that is bread salad. Yours looks particularly delicious… I adore the combination of asparagus and leeks in anything!

  92. daphne says:

    a carb salad- brilliant! Joanne- what I love about your salads is that it is FILLING! not the skinny looking but tasteless salads that we sometimes see out there. Cheers to healthy can be delicious too!

  93. Mo'Betta says:

    Ohhh, I’ve been wanting to make a bread salad…but with a lot less, um, vegetables. Yeah, I suck. *sigh*

  94. Reeni says:

    Feeding people makes me happy too! The healthy and the desserts. I love how you bulked up this salad with veggies! And pesto! That really makes me want to dig right in!

  95. Angela says:

    What an incredibly beautiful salad. I would eat at least two bowls. Feeding people makes me happy – cooking makes me happy – reading your blog makes me happy.

  96. Monet says:

    For as much bread as I bake…I should get comfortable with making more panzanella. Thank you for taking the time to share a moment of your world with me…I was wishing I could take a bite out of your photographs! I hope you are having a wonderful, joyful week. Many blessings and much love! Hugs from Austin!

  97. Carolyn Jung says:

    Classic panzanella is one of my fave salads, especially in the summer with heirloom tomatoes. Thanks for this version, which I can enjoy earlier in spring with asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes.

  98. sophia says:

    So I heard Sicilians are red-blooded creatures: fiery and passionate and full of love + rage. Is that true of your family? Hee hee.

    No such thing as “too much bread” for me! Unless it’s a sandwich.

  99. Maria says:

    I agree – cooking for the people I love makes me happy! I love the flavours in this dish!

  100. Stephanie says:

    We can be 20-something Italian grandmothers together! Food is life, baby! Your salad looks delish, despite the abundance of bread. 🙂

  101. Kerstin says:

    I feel like I live to feed to sometimes 🙂 I’m glad your family enjoyed this, I know I would certainly eat multiple servings!

  102. I absolutely love Panzanella and your spring version is just incredible!

  103. Natalie says:

    i am addicted to recipes with the word panzanella in the title, meaning i must try this asap. i’m thinking maybe for my book club on monday night!!!

  104. I was just thinking of Ina’s panzanella salad and craving it–this only compounds the craving–great combination of flavors. 😉

  105. Marisa says:

    I am in love with this salad! All the lovely greens is making my mouth water (and it’s just past breakfast over here..)

    PS: I love this line: “by which I mean, they know how to curse and ask for cheese”. Makes me chuckle.

  106. Eliana says:

    What would make me happy? Having this salad in my life. Joanne – it looks incredible.

  107. Nutmeg Nanny says:

    That is such a beautiful salad! The asparagus is calling my name…

  108. This is seriously the prettiest salad I’ve ever seen.

  109. I have a favourite panzanella recipe but have been meaning to try a spring version like this! The leeks in particular sound like a great addition.

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