Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Greek Panzanella Salad

I don't make the Barefoot Contessa's recipes very often, but it has very little to do with how I feel about her. I actually like her very much; she's such a soothing television host, and her food always looks accessible and drool-worthy. Therein lies the problem; her food isn't exactly fat-free! It usually has a high calorie content, although I wouldn't call her an unhealthy cook. So, I think the best thing I can do when I'm craving one of Ina's recipes is to go for it, but alter it to better fit my calorie needs. As Ina herself might say, "How easy is that?"

So I embarked upon the task of making her Greek Panzanella Salad, because it looked insanely delicious, and quite frankly I was craving bread. This seemed like the perfect way to turn bread into a one-dish meal that is also packed full of fresh vegetables, feta cheese, and a scrumptious dressing. I've made panzanella once before, and it was Ellie Krieger's recipe. That one was wonderful, too; this one is just a different spin on the formula.

This one has spinach, onions, bell peppers, cucumbers, kalamata olives, grape tomatoes (which I roasted first so they would get all soft and concentrated in flavor), and feta cheese. I used a five-grain bread for my toasted bread cubes, which added a nice nutty dimension to the salad. The dressing is a pretty simple red wine vinaigrette; I just used a lot less oil than Ina did. I also decreased my feta to about 2 oz., and used a reduced-fat variety. That said, I think it could have used a bit more feta, so I wrote the recipe below with the option of using 3 or 4 oz. of cheese. Use the amount you feel comfortable with. Even with all my changes, this salad was absolutely wonderful! I didn't feel like I was depriving myself of anything; all the flavors were there, and a serving was definitely filling enough to pass for an entree. Now that I've made this recipe with such rousing success, I can hardly wait to get my hands on some more of Ina's recipes!

Greek Panzanella Salad
adapted from Foodnetwork.com
makes 6-8 servings

Nonstick cooking spray
1 (12-0z.) loaf whole grain, crusty bread, cut into cubes
1/4-1/3 cup kalamata olives, chopped
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved (or roasted, like I did)
1/2 a cucumber, seeded and chopped into cubes
1 orange bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 a red onion, sliced into thin strips
3 cups lightly packed baby spinach leaves
3/4-1 cup reduced-fat feta cheese, cubed
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar (I use a pomegranate red wine vinegar; yum!)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Arrange the bread cubes on a large baking sheet and lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray. Bake the cubes in the oven for about 10 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking. Check for doneness; they should feel stale, like croutons. Adjust cooking time if they need a bit longer.

2. Toss the olives and the next 7 ingredients (through feta cheese) together in a large salad bowl. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine the red wine vinegar, the mustard, salt, pepper, garlic, and oregano. Slowly stream in the olive oil, whisking constantly.

3. Pour the dressing over the vegetables; toss well to combine. Add in your reserved, cooled bread cubes and toss again to coat the cubes with dressing. Serve in shallow bowls.

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