Panzanella (pahn-zah-NELL-la) is a practical Italian dish transforming stale bread into a delicious salad. Traditionally it is made entirely from cold ingredients, but we like a roasted layer topped with a contrast of chilled. Mark said that it’s “like” salad, but without all the “boring” stuff. Ironically, a minute later he suggested it would be good over spinach leaves.

I think I may be cracking his anti-vegetable platform.

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parchment paper
Place an oven rack just below center; start preheating to 400°F “Convection” (verify with an oven thermometer). Ovens often run hot or cold or preheat slowly.
  • 4 ounces wedged onion, white or yellow
Meanwhile, add to the sheet pan.

Tip: With onion on its side, cut off and discard both ends. Cut in half from pole to pole; discard dry or tough layers. Place cut sides down and halve at the equator. Rotate equators down; slice into ½-inch wedges.

Onion wedges are attractive and not prone to burning while roasting with bacon.
  • 5-6 crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, sliced
Prepare mushrooms; add to the sheet pan.

Tip: Select mushrooms whose caps have not separated from the stems; brush off any soil with a pastry brush. Cut in half from top to bottom; place cut sides down and slice to ½ inch.

Rinsing mushrooms makes them slimy.
  • 4 ounces thick sliced bacon, snipped into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon roughly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
Add to the sheet pan. Drizzle with oil; scatter seasonings on top. Toss with hands to coat evenly; spread in an even layer. Bake until bacon is crispy (13-15 minutes); pour off any excess fat and set aside.

Tip: Leave bacon together in a stack, as they were in the package. Snip every 1 inch with kitchen shears; separate the resulting pieces.

Regular (inexpensive) olive oil is used here because heating destroys the subtle flavors of extra-virgin.
  • 12-15 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
Meanwhile, add to a 1-quart bowl.

Tip: Place each olive on the cutting board, run a knife lengthwise around the pit; twist apart and then pry out the pit. Alternatively, place the broad side of a chef’s knife over each, strike with a fist or palm to release pit.

The first method results in fewer damaged olives, but the second method works faster.
  • 1 ripe Hass avocado, pitted, peeled and cubed to ½ inch
  • 12-15 vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon roughly ground black pepper
  • 1/16 teaspoon fine sea salt
Add all to bowl; gently toss with a silicone spatula to coat avocado in vinegar. Cover and refrigerate.

Tip: Run a chef’s knife blade around avocado, stem to blossom end, circling the pit. Twist to separate halves. Place the half holding the pit on the workspace, hit pit with the blade; twist to blade release. Remove skin, which easily peels off if it is ripe.

Vinegar slows avocado discoloration and adds a pleasant tang. Pitting the avocado on the workspace is safer than holding the avocado in your hand.
  • 8 ounces Focaccia, cubed to ½ inch.
Distribute evenly over baked bacon. Return sheet pan to the oven at 400°F until bread browns at the edges (4-5 minutes). In a wide, shallow serving bowl layer roasted ingredients, followed by those that were chilled. Keeping panzanella layers separate preserves contrasting temperatures.
  • 4 ounces Greek feta, cubed to ¼ or ½ inch
Distribute on top and serve. Adding just before serving protects texture and color.

FOR FOCACCIA SUBSTITUTION: Brush 3-4 slices of artisan white bread with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Evenly scatter 1 teaspoon grated Parmesan, 1 teaspoon Italian herb mix, and ⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt on top. Cube as for Focaccia and proceed with Panzanella instructions.