Party Perfect Panzanella: Are You Party Ready?

tomato bread salad

We had a couple friends over for drinks yesterday afternoon.  It was lovely; a few cold beers, a handful of chipotle-spiced walnuts to munch on, and a sunny deck. And then another friend called, and another, and in our beer and sun soaked state, we invited them all over for dinner.

I could have ordered pizza.  I almost ordered pizza.  But this is just the kind of challenge that the Electrolux “Are You Party Ready?” campaign is all about.  Entertaining on the fly makes me feel just a bit like I’m on a reality tv show; 60 minutes to make a celebratory meal from the ingredients in your fridge.  Go!  But I love the flexibility of having friend over anytime, and I love to feed them.  So I’ve developed a few tricks over the years, to keep my sanity and enjoy my friends. The folks at Electrolux suggested that I share these tips with all of you.

chipotle spiced walnits and champagne

My favorite impromptu entertaining tip is to always keep a bottle of Champagne in the fridge.  I know it takes up space, but you just never know when you’ll have an occasion to celebrate!  And sparkling wine makes even the smallest event into a true celebration.  I can’t take full credit for this tip, it’s really Jeff’s idea.  He’s a big believer in the importance of Champagne.  In fact, Champagne glasses were our very first joint purchase, made long before we were even living together.  As Mereille Guiliano has so often proclaimed, Champagne goes with just about everything, so whatever you’re serving, it provides ultimate flexibility. And even if your cupboards are bare, with a glass of Champagne in hand, your guests will feel like a million bucks.  Plus, the bubbly will distract them long enough for you to make a frantic call to your favorite delivery guy.

My second favorite entertaining tip is less optimistic, but perhaps more practical.  Keep a loaf of good bread in the freezer.  If friends drop by in the morning, make French toast.  A neighbor pops in at lunch? Nothing dresses up canned soup better than buttery homemade croutons. Your boss invites herself over for a drink after work? Well, first pull out that Champagne!  Then toast up a few slices of bread and top with whatever you have on hand – chopped tomatoes tossed in balsamic vinaigrette, or mashed cannellini beans and chives. Even a topping of canned tuna mixed with capers will impress her. 

flank stake grilled with pesto

So last night, as the doorbell rang, I pulled a few cheese-topped toasts out of the oven, grabbed a bottle of Champagne from the fridge, and we were off to a good start.  Thankfully, I had been planning on steak for dinner.  But with a few extra people, I had to stretch the meal.  Trusty freezer-bread to the rescue!  I love the thrift of a panzanella salad.  Stale bread turns into something wonderful when surrounded by bright red tomatoes and sweet onions. Our supper of pesto steak and green salad was stretched to feed the masses with a bright panzanella. And as we move further into tomato season here in New England, I can promise there will be more panzanella on my table this summer. You could add more veggies than I did; cucumbers or peppers would be wonderful.  Next time I might throw in some pitted olives.  And if you’re looking for a bit more heft, I’d suggest some fresh mozzarella cheese, or even a few grilled shrimp. 

cherry berry charlotte

As for dessert, well, that trusty loaf of bread (ok, I admit, I actually had two loaves!) saved me again.  I’m typically a big fan of bread pudding as my go-to dessert in a pinch.  Bread pudding is infinitely flexible, and accommodates everything from bananas and chocolate to apples and cinnamon.  But with an abundance of cherries and berries in my fridge, I experimented with a charlotte instead.  Buttery bread encasing sweet fruit and topped with a bit of chocolate sauce made for a rich dessert.  But I will admit that I’m still partial to the bread pudding, so homey and gooey and rustic.  The charlotte may win points for style, but it’s tough to top the taste of a rich bread pudding, particularly one serves with a bit of bourbon sauce!

cherry berry charlotte

Do you have any favorite tips for entertaining on the fly? I’m sure you do. I’d love to know your tips so leave me a note, and also check out Kelly Ripa’s Are You Party Ready? site to share your entertaining tips!

Party Perfect Panzanella

Serves 6-8 as  a side dish

4 cups cubed French, Italian or good quality white bread

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

4 medium-sized tomatoes, sliced in wedges

1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes with half of the olive oil, a generous sprinkle each of salt and pepper, and the oregano and garlic powder.  Arrange the bread on a greased baking sheet and toast in the oven until golden brown.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, soak the onion in enough water to cover for about 10 minutes, then drain. 

Wisk together the remaining oil, the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.  In a large bowl, toss the toasted bread, the tomato, the basil and the onion with the vinaigrette.

Serve immediately (really, I mean right away!  you don’t want to eat soggy bread).

Published in: on June 5, 2011 at 5:37 pm  Comments (26)  
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26 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What great tips! And agree one should always have some bubbly chilled & ready 🙂

  2. great tips for entertaining and sounds like you do it in style

  3. What a great party food! oh yep…some sparkling wine is a must for the party. Thanks for sharing it.

  4. These are terrific and very helpful tips!

  5. Katie, great post! A few questions for you: how do you start using the bread from the freezer? Do you defrost the whole loaf (at what temp, for how long?)? Do you freeze the bread when it’s pre-sliced? Do you freeze the loaf as soon as you buy it?

    • Good questions! I usually do freeze the bread as soon as I buy it… I tend to buy one loaf for dinner and one for the freezer. I freeze the loaf whole unless it is huge, in which case I cut it in half. And if I plan to toast the bread, for this salad or for crostini (or if I plan to use it in a recipe like a bread pudding) I defrost in the microwave. Just a minute on low works in my microwave, but play with yours.

  6. I am so impressed with your organizational skills! This has been masterfully done! I am sure your friends had a ball. Having a bottle of bubbly at hand and a few loves of bread is a great idea.

  7. Hi!
    What a fun fun time! You rocked that “party”…
    Thanks for sharing such great information.. Wow are you super good on the fly!
    Take care,

  8. Those are some great tips! I espeically like the one about keeping bread in the freezer. It sounds like you had a fun night!

  9. Thanks for all the useful tips! The panzanella sounds delicious!

  10. Now that summer is almost here I have to have a few things ready to go at a moment’s notice too. Great ideas!

  11. What fantastic ideas, Katie! I love this post. 🙂 Quesadillas are always quick and yummy – especially when topped with shredded beef (leftover pot roast) and goat cheese browned under the broiler. Yum! 🙂

    • Oooh, I totally agree – quesadillas are great impromptu party food. the filling options are endless, you just have to keep some tortillas on hand. Leftover pot roast and goat cheese sounds like an awesome combo!

  12. Great tips!I love the idea of keeping a bottle of bubbly on hand!

  13. I love the panzanella! It is a great party food. And your dessert looks spectacular… I bet it was a nice gathering of friends!

  14. It seems that party was wonderful and you’ve done a great job making this baby 🙂 It looks very delicious. Great job.

  15. I don’t know if I’m party-ready but I’m certainly ready to sample some panzanella! Great dish!
    That tip about keeping a loaf of bread in the freezer is priceless.

  16. Whoa, where is the recipe for those bread-cased berries?! I want it! Looks amazing!

  17. fabulous tips and the panzanella sounds perfect for entertaining!

  18. What a creative idea! Sounds like you are an excellent party host!

  19. I love your blog! Beautiful ~

  20. I love having a bottle of champagne in the fridge, the problem is I always end up drinking it =P I think having loaves of frozen Italian bread in the freezer helps because you can throw together a quick garlic bread, toast it to dip in oil & vinegar, or throw together any kind of bruschetta. Great tips!

  21. Hello Katie; thanks a lot for coming back to my blog. We moved to Poland for some time, I started a new job; new duties, tasks, I had no time for blogging and not time for leaving comments (however, I always check what’s going on on my favorite blogs, including yours).
    Party ? I forgot what does it mean. I do not remember …was it 8 months ago, 1 year ? Sth like that. Anyway I like a lot your party suggestions. Take care and I REALLY hope that I will be able to read your recipes and comment them more often. Best regards !

  22. That looks really tasty. Great dinner, and a great dessert!

  23. […] Panzanella […]

  24. You should post the charlotte recipe. It looks tasty. I’m going to have a barbecue next weekend, and I think the panzanella will be great. Grandma and brother will be here 🙂

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