When I think about the salad called panzanella, I remember the spring I spent in Tuscany. Panzanella in its native land is stale unsalted bread soaked in water, then squeezed out like a sponge and served in a vinaigrette with ripe tomatoes, sliced cucumber, torn basil and diced onion.
But what I crave is a crunchier version I ate at a restaurant on Vashon Island, Washington where a rainbow of roasted vegetables stood in for those other summer crops.
And during a time of year where everything is coming up pumpkin, it’s only fitting to make pumpkin (including the seeds) the star of this fall panzanella salad.
Pumpkins & Squash
You probably already know that canned pumpkin is actually a squash, right? That’s because, technically, all pumpkins are squash by another name.
But it’s fun to say pumpkin, which is so much more evocative of fall and holidays. It’s so alluring, in fact, that there’s an explosion of crazy pumpkin-flavored products out there, from yogurt to chocolate!
Personally, I stick to pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie–you know, things that actually contain real pumpkin.
But the edible version of this beloved fall squash has a marvelous savory side worth exploring. And my favorite way to start with everything from this soup to this salad is roasting it.
How to prep a pumpkin for roasting
Prepping a pumpkin for roasting takes a bit more work than baking pumpkin for purée because you have to peel the pumpkin first. It can seem a bit daunting at first.
Fortunately, the skin on a sugar pie pumpkin is fairly thin and this y-peeler makes the job quicker than you think it will be. To stabilize the pumpkin and make the peeling easier, I trim the top and bottom, leaving as much flesh on the pumpkin as possible. Then, I hold the pumpkin on a cutting board at an angle, start peeling and work my way all around.
Then, it’s just a matter of cutting the pumpkin in half, scooping out the seeds (an ice cream scoop works best) and cutting the halves into 1-inch wedges and the wedges into chunks.
Toss with oil and seasonings and it’s ready for the oven!
Make this panzanella your own
I have to admit that while I loved the flavors of that authentic panzanella I tasted in Tuscany, I wasn’t a fan of the soggy texture.
So, instead of soaking and squeezing stale bread, I cube and toast it in the oven until it’s not quite as crunchy as a crouton.
The good news with this panzanella is that you determine the salad’s final texture: for a tender texture, make the salad up to an hour in advance; for a crunchier texture, make it just before serving.
The other asset of this panzanella is that you can make all of the components–from the toasted bread to the roasted, diced beets–up to two days in advance. It’s a lay up for any entertaining you might be doing in the near future.
Or a winner for a potluck.
Pumpkin Panzanella Salad
Roasted pumpkin and beets combine with multigrain bread and feta to make a hearty and colorful fall salad. All the prep work is done in advance to assemble a complete vegetarian meal or a hearty side dish for roast chicken in minutes. I used golden and purple beets for the most color in this recipe. Use your favorites. And feel free to substitute any winter squash variety in case you don't have pumpkin.
For the salad:
- 2 large beets (golden and purple) scrubbed
- 6 cups multi-grain bread cut into 1-inch cubes (6 1/2-inch slices)
- 1 1 1/2-2 pound pumpkin
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 bunch kale stemmed and finely chopped
- 2 medium shallots thinly sliced
- 1 cup minced Italian parsley
- 1 cup crumbled feta
For the dressing:
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the beets in a small baking dish, add a tablespoon of water and seal the dish with aluminum foil. Roast until the beets until a skewer inserted into the center slides in and out easily, 35-40 minutes. Set the baking dish on a cooling rack and uncover the beets to allow them to cool.
Meanwhile, using a large chefs knife, trim the top and bottom of the pumpkin, removing as little of the flesh as possible. Peel the pumpkin using a sharp-bladed vegetable peeler to remove all of the skin. Cut the pumpkin in half from stem to root and scrape out the seeds, reserving them for garnish, if desired. Cut the pumpkin into 1-inch cubes to make about 5 cups total.
Toss the pumpkin cubes with the olive oil, rosemary and salt and arrange in a single layer on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Roast with the beets at 400 degrees F until the pumpkin is tender and browned in spots, 25-30 minutes.
When the beets are cool enough to handle, trim the tops with a paring knife and rub off the outer peel. If it does not slide off easily, use the paring knife to scrape it off. Dice the beets into 1/2-inch cubes and set them aside.
Arrange the bread cubes in a single layer on a dry sheet pan. When the pumpkin and beets are done, reduce the heat to 375 degrees F. Bake until the bread is lightly toasted, 15-17 minutes. Set aside on a cooling rack.
Toss the kale with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the cider vinegar and the salt in your largest mixing bowl. Use your fingers to massage the ingredients into the kale and begin to tenderize the leaves.
[Note: The panzanella can be prepared several hours in advance up to this point.]
Place the pumpkin seeds in a dry skillet and cook over medium heat shaking the pan until they darken in color but do not scorch. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
To finish the salad from 1 hour up to just before serving, add the toasted bread to the bowl of kale. Toss well. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and the balsamic vinegar and toss well once again. At this point, you can let the salad sit to soften the toasted bread or continue with the recipe to serve it right away.
Add the shallots, parsley and feta and toss once more. Taste for salt before serving, passing the pumpkin seeds for garnish.