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Basil Vinaigrette for Caprese Panzanella Salad

Apologies to Forrest Gump, but if I had to pick two foods that fit together like puzzle pieces, I wouldn’t choose peas and carrots.

Instead, I’d go with basil and tomatoes, one of summer’s most simpatico pairings. Add mozzarella to that company of two and it’s not a crowd—it’s a party.

However. As much as I love caprese salad, eating a whole basil leaf makes me feel like a rabbit. That’s where basil vinaigrette comes in.

basil vinaigrette dressing
Photo: Casey Barber

Basil vinaigrette is just as easy to make as pesto—throw all the ingredients into the food processor and blitz it up.

It’s bright and zingy, thanks to a healthy handful of chopped shallots and white balsamic vinegar, but not too sweet.

(That’s why you use white balsamic. Go buy the bottle and taste the difference.)

caprese panzanella salad with basil vinaigrette and fresh tomatoes
Photo: Casey Barber

It’s also ideal for drizzling over pretty much any summer produce. Seriously.

Quick Salad Ideas for Basil Vinagrette

  • very thinly sliced summer squash and shaved Parmesan
  • melon (cantaloupe or honeydew) and prosciutto
  • charred corn, red pepper, and black or pinto beans
  • chickpeas, feta, and arugula
  • green beans, cherry tomatoes, and hard-boiled egg

There’s also classic caprese panzanella salad, as shown in the photos here and in the recipe below.

caprese panzanella salad with basil vinaigrette and fresh tomatoes
Photo: Casey Barber

Panzanella, or bread salad, is the Italian way of using up leftover stale crusts of bread and turning them into gorgeous homemade crouton chunks.

It’s my favorite way to eat caprese, since the bread soaks up all the luscious vinaigrette and tomato juices.

I feel like lettuce is entirely optional in this salad, so I omit it, but feel free to add in a few leaves if you have them freshly snipped.

caprese panzanella salad with basil vinaigrette and fresh tomatoes
Photo: Casey Barber

And this is going to sound crazy, coming from a cheese-aholic like me, but I’m happy to eat basil vinaigrette over my tomatoes even when there’s no mozzarella in the vicinity.

Want more ways to enjoy basil and tomatoes all summer? A no-cook tomato sauce is your answer for pasta or quick bruschetta.

basil vinaigrette dressing

(Ricotta or fresh mozzarella would pair oh so well with that sauce too, if you just can’t quit the cheese. I understand.)

You can even pair basil and tomatoes in a Bloody Mary with red peppers.

basil vinaigrette dressing

Basil Vinaigrette + Caprese Panzanella Salad

Yield: 1 cup dressing / 4 servings salad
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes

Basil vinaigrette is a summer staple for all kinds of salads, but it's a perfect match for ripe tomatoes. Try it in a caprese panzanella salad with fresh mozzarella and crusty Italian bread.

Ingredients

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1 ounce (28 grams, about 2 packed cups) fresh basil leaves
  • 1 large shallot, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the caprese panzanella salad:

  • 1/2 a loaf of crusty Italian bread
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella
  • 4 large heirloom tomatoes

Instructions

Make the basil vinaigrette:

  1. Add the basil, shallot, vinegar, salt, and pepper to a mini food processor or blender and pulse to combine.
  2. Add the olive oil and blend until emulsified.

Make the salad:

  1. Slice the bread into big old cubes, about 1 to 1 1/2 inches each.
  2. Spread in a single layer on a large baking sheet.
  3. If you're planning ahead, you can leave the cubes in the oven—turned off—overnight.
  4. If you want to crisp them quickly, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and toast for about 10 minutes, just until they're slightly toasted but not browned.
  5. Let the bread cool slightly while you slice the mozzarella and tomatoes into wedges.
  6. Toss the bread, mozzarella, tomatoes, and vinaigrette together in a large bowl, making sure the bread soaks up the dressing.
  7. Divide between 4 large bowls and serve immediately.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 809Total Fat: 59gSaturated Fat: 17gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 38gCholesterol: 73mgSodium: 1063mgCarbohydrates: 43gFiber: 4gSugar: 12gProtein: 27g

The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.

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