Chicken Dinners: Grilled Chicken Panzanella

Yvonne Ruperti

When I used to live in Boston, during the summer I'd always stop at the farmers' market in Copley Square on my way home from work and fill up some paper bags with farm fresh tomatoes. The tomatoes were so juicy that half of them would be crushed by the time I waddled home with my load. Nothing screams of summer (or the impending end of summer) more than juicy, red, fragrant tomatoes.

And one of the best dishes to make with 'em is a big rustic bowl of panzanella. Panzanella is a classic Italian bread salad of tomatoes, bread, oil, and vinegar. The cubes of bread soak up the potent tomato liquid and vinaigrette and become moist and flavorful. What turns this salad into a meal instead of a side dish is the addition of juicy chunks of chicken. And what better way to cook it than on the grill to give it that smoky, summer touch. Panzanella is quick, fresh, and perfect for an easy weeknight dinner.

For the bread, a baguette is the best choice because it can be moistened well while still retaining a chewy bite. However, try to avoid tossing in fresh, soft loaves. Stale or oven toasted bread is best for panzanella. The drier crumb will soak up liquid to the max without mushing up. In this recipe, I give the grill double duty. It's perfect for giving the bread a good toasting on the grates.

After grilling the chicken and the bread, the rest is just a matter of tossing it all together in a vinaigrette of red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and good quality olive oil. Add-ins of slices of cucumber, red onion, handfuls of fresh basil, and kalamata olives add texture and fresh flavor to the dish. You might think the salad is too dry when first tossed, but give it 15 minutes before digging in. If the tomatoes are good and ripe, plenty of fresh juice will have leached out, moistening the whole dish to a T.