Italians make clever use of leftover bread: ribollita in the winter, a hearty soup that evolves all week, and panzanella (bread salad) in the summer, a substantial salad of bread cubes mixed with peak summer produce. It’s incredible how summer’s jaw-dropping fresh tomatoes, thin slices of onion and basil, and a drizzle of vinegar and peppery olive oil can revive a stale loaf. You may remember when I re-imagined panzanella as a deconstructed muffuletta sandwich and here, I’ve given it an entirely southern twist with oven-crisped cornbread cubes, salty bacon, sweet delicata squash, earthy kale, tender blackeyed peas and butter-fried sage.
Of these three bread salads, it would be tough to pick a favorite, but I do remember the first. We stood at the bottom of a hill in the tiny Tuscan town of Civitella Marittima. We were waiting for Carlo. He arrived, swung open the passenger door, and welcomed us aboard his well traveled VW station wagon.
We spent the day twisting and bumping along Tuscan roads while Carlo educated us, like a father would his children, about the centuries old traditions of wine making and olive pressing. Without the afternoon drama of an emergency trip to the vet for a viper-bitten dog, it might have been a perfect day. But that’s another story.
The Panzanella that Carlo prepared for our lunch inspired me to create this American South version. His consisted of bread, tomatoes, mozzarella, and fresh garden greens lightly dressed in tangy vinaigrette, ingredients that he had on hand. This bread salad too came from what I had on hand, an ensemble of ingredients with a southern flare: leftover skillet cornbread, delicata squash, bacon, fresh sage, kale and blackeyed peas.
This salad is great warm or at room temperature, so don’t worry if the ingredients aren’t ready at the same time.
Note: I’ve made this panzanella a dozen times since I first posted it – I’m re-posting it with a few minor improvements and a new main photo.
A dozen fresh sage leaves may sound like a lot, but, trust me, once they’re chopped and butter crisped you won’t mind. This recipe makes enough for two generous main course servings.
- 6 ounces leftover skillet cornbread cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 delicata squash unpeeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch strips
- 2 slices bacon cut into 1/4-inch strips crosswise
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 12 leaves fresh sage coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 cup frozen black eyed peas
- 5 ounces kale very thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or more
- splash red wine vinegar
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Start by making Skillet Cornbread and save out 1/4 of the recipe to make this cornbread panzanella.
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange cubes of cornbread in a single layer. Bake for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove and place cubes in a large salad bowl. (Leave oven on.)
Line the same baking sheet with a fresh sheet of parchment paper. Spread delicata squash over the bottom in a single layer; sprinkle bacon pieces over the top. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until bacon is browned and squash is tender – stir after about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and add to cornbread in salad bowl; toss to combine.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sage leaves; cook and stir until sage begins to crisp and butter smells slightly nutty. Add to cornbread and toss to combine.
In the same skillet (no need to wash it out) add water or broth, black eyed peas, and kale. Cook and stir for 4 to 6 minutes, or until peas are thawed and warm and kale has wilted slightly. Remove from heat and drizzle with olive oil, a splash or two of red wine vinegar, and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add to cornbread mixture and toss to combine. Serve.
A quarter round of my skillet cornbread is just the right amount for this salad, but you can use any cornbread recipe you like.