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Panzanella Salad Recipe with Grilled Chicken

We’re grilling crusty bread, chicken and peppers for this Panzanella salad recipe. Then combining them with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, herbs and a zesty dressing to create a beautiful tasty bread salad.

What a perfect spring/summer meal or potluck dish.

panzanella salad in serving bowl 1

A traditional Italian Panzanella is a simple rustic bread salad made with ripe tomatoes, basil and bread as the foundation. I start with that and look around my fridge or garden to see what else to add. The variations are endless and we’ve made a number of suggestions below. 

Panzanella salad is best eaten in the summer when tomatoes and other vegetables are at their peak. I definitely stretch that to other seasons since fresh (ish) veggies are available year round. I’m not going to lie though. Juicy, super ripe tomatoes are amazing in a bread salad if you can get your hands on them

The grilled chicken addition makes the panzanella salad a full meal. Make it your own by experimenting with the flavors, dressings and ingredients you love. It’s a great way to use up your fresh garden veggies and herbs. 

No grill? Need a vegetarian or dairy free version? Need shortcuts? Read on. We’ve got these covered.

What to serve with a panzanella salad

2 Tips for Success

The bread: Make sure you use a crusty bread that will hold up even when soaked in juices and not turn soggy.  Day-old bread helps. So does toasting or grilling. Yes, the bread cubes will still get a bit soggy, but they still maintain some bite. If you really don’t like soggy bread, toss the panzanella salad with the dressing just before serving. 

The veggies: To avoid a watery salad after sitting around, give the tomatoes a quick squeeze over the sink if they are particularly juicy before adding them to the salad. And remove the seeds from the cucumber (or use Japanese or English cucumbers). 

Tailor To Your Taste

Here are a few suggestions for substitutions and variations you can try. But don’t be limited by this list – use whatever you like.

Bread

  • A rustic Italian Tuscan loaf is traditional. I use a multigrain artisan bread, a French baguette or ciabatta (I love olive ciabatta!).
  • Slightly stale bread and toasting/grilling the bread is the best way to make sure the bread absorbs the dressing and doesn’t get too soft.
  • Don’t use a regular soft fresh bread because it will become too mushy.

Vegetable/fruit options

  • Summer peak season ripe tomatoes are ideal. If not in season, choose good cherry tomatoes, heirloom or beefsteak tomatoes.
  • For other vegetables, in addition to tomatoes and cukes, try roasted beets, cooked green beans, radishes, grilled zucchini and/or red onions.
  • Fruits add a wonderful sweetness and juiciness to a panzanella salad. Try peaches (or grilled peaches), grapes, nectarines, pineapple, mango or pears.

Flavor variations

  • The dressing is a key flavor booster. The traditional bread salad dressing is basically olive oil and red wine vinegar. I use a simple vinaigrette that often includes good quality balsamic vinegar, garlic and Dijon.
  • Other good options are a Japanese Salad Dressing for an Asian twist, an Apple Cider dressing or Champagne Vinaigrette.
  • For Italian flavors, try adding oregano, feta, capers and olives.
  • Herbs will also add great flavor. Basil is traditional. Alternatively, try fresh thyme, chives, parsley, dill or tarragon. 

No Grill?

  • If you don’t have or want to use a grill, check the recipe for options. 

Garnish

  • In addition to herbs, try adding lemon zest, nuts, torn Mozzarella or Bocconcini.

Dietary preferences

  • Replace the chicken with cubed tofu (or more veggies) for a vegetarian version.
  • And for a dairy-free version, omit the cheese. 

Shortcuts

  • Use a good quality bottled vinaigrette dressing. I don’t suggest creamy dressings. 
  • Buy and cut up a rotisserie chicken instead of grilling chicken thighs. 

Make Ahead

  • The panzanella salad recipe can be made 1-2 hours ahead and left on the counter to develop the flavors.
  • If you want less soggy bread cubes, make everything ahead but add the dressing just before serving. 
  • The fridge is not a panzanella’s friend, but some of us still love next-day leftovers straight out of the container, standing over the counter 🙂

Other simple Panzanella recipes you might like

How to make a panzanella salad recipe with grilled chicken

chicken thighs, cherry tomatoes, green onions, cucumber, baguette, seasoning, parsley, red pepper, dressing, cheese
Ingredients: chicken thighs, cherry tomatoes, green onions, cucumbers, baguette, olive oil, seasonings, parsley, red pepper, vinaigrette dressing, bocconcini cheese
chicken, bread, peppers on grill
Brush oil on chicken, bread and peppers. Season. Grill on medium high. Chicken will take about 7-10 minutes depending on thickness.
chopped salad ingredients, bread, chicken on cutting board
Cut vegetables, chicken and bread into bite size pieces.
dressing pouring onto panzanella in bowl
Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients. Place all salad ingredients and chicken in a bowl. Pour dressing on Panzanella salad and toss together. 
panzanella salad in bowl
Let salad sit for 10-15 minutes to blend flavors. Transfer to serving bowl if desired and add garnish like lemon zest, nuts, basil, parsley.

Panzanella Salad with chicken in bowl p

panzanella salad in serving bowl 1
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Panzanella Salad Recipe with Grilled Chicken

We're grilling crusty bread, chicken and peppers for this Panzanella salad recipe. Then combining them with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, herbs and a zesty dressing to create a beautiful tasty bread salad. What a perfect spring/summer meal or potluck dish.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Rest time10 mins
Total Time35 mins
Course: Main Course, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 3 main dishes
Author: Cheryl

Ingredients

Chicken

  • 1 lb (450g) chicken thighs or breasts boneless, skinless
  • 2 tsp olive oil (or mayonnaise)
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried thyme to sprinkle on chicken

Bread

  • 4 oz (114g) crusty bread, cut lengthwise into wedges or slices Tuscan bread, ciabatta, baguette, multigrain
  • oil spray (or 2 tsp olive oil)
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder

Salad (Note 1)

  • 1 cup (200g) tomatoes, cut into 1 inch/2.5cm pieces (or cut cherry tomatoes in half)
  • 1 cup (120g) cucumbers, peeled, seeded (if needed) and sliced 1/4 inch/0.6 cm (I use Japanese or English cucumbers - no need to take out seeds)
  • 1 red pepper, cut in 5-6 pieces, seeds removed
  • 3 small green onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley or shredded basil leaves (or other herbs)
  • 1/2 cup bocconcini or mozzarella, torn into pieces optional

Vinaigrette Dressing (Note 2)

  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic 1 small clove
  • 1 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (or white or red wine vinegar or lemon juice)
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt or more to taste
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper or more to taste

Instructions

  • HEAT GRILL: Clean grill and wipe with a cloth or paper towel dipped in oil (or spray with oil before heating). Heat to medium high heat (about 425-450F/230C).
  • MAKE VINAIGRETTE DRESSING: Combine all ingredients and whisk vigorously to combine. Or place in lock-and-seal container and shake. Taste and adjust as needed. If too tangy, add a teaspoon of maple syrup.
  • PREPARE BREAD CUBES: Brush or spray bread slices/wedges with oil. Lightly sprinkle on salt, pepper and garlic powder.
  • PREPARE CHICKEN: Flatten the chicken on a cutting board with the bottom of a saucepan, mallet or heel of your hand. This will allow for even grilling. Rub oil on chicken. Sprinkle generously with salt, pepper, thyme and garlic powder.
  • GRILL CHICKEN, BREAD, PEPPERS: Place chicken and peppers on grill. Grill 3-4 minutes (depending on size of chicken pieces. Turn over. Grill another 3 minutes. Add bread and grill on cut side and crust side for a total of 3 minutes or until grill marks are showing. Check if chicken is cooked - instant thermometer will read 160F/71C (temp will rise with resting). Let chicken rest for 10 minutes. Cut bread into 1 inch/2.5cm cubes. Cut chicken and peppers into bite size pieces. Note 3 for no grilling.
  • ASSEMBLE: Add to bowl the tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, chopped green onions, bread, chicken and fresh basil or parsley (and cheese if using). Pour on dressing and toss to coat bread salad well. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt if needed or a squeeze of lemon or zest. Transfer to a serving bowl if desired. Let set for 10 minutes to allow bread to absorb dressing and flavors to meld.

Notes

  1. Panzanella salad variations: 
    • Summer peak season ripe tomatoes are ideal. If not in season, choose good cherry tomatoes, heirloom or beefsteak tomatoes.
    • For other vegetables, in addition to tomatoes and cucumbers, try roasted beets, cooked green beans, radishes, grilled zucchini and/or red onions.
    • Fruits add a wonderful sweetness and juiciness to a panzanella salad. Try peaches (or grilled peaches), grapes, nectarines, pineapple, mango or pears.
  2. Vinaigrette Dressing and other flavor alternatives: Feel free to use your own favorite vinaigrette or even buy a good quality dressing. You will need about 1/4 cup or just slightly more.
    • Other good options are a Japanese Salad Dressing for an Asian twist, an Apple Cider dressing or Champagne Vinaigrette.
    • For Italian flavors, try adding oregano, feta, capers and olives.
    • Herbs will also add great flavor. Basil is traditional. Alternatively, try fresh thyme, chives, parsley, dill or tarragon. 
  3. Alternative to grilling:
    • For bread cubes: Heat oven to 425F/218C. Place bread cubes, tossed with oil and sprinkled with salt, pepper and garlic powder on a pan. Bake for for 7-10 minutes or until golden brown. 
    • For chicken and peppers: Heat large non stick pan on stove to medium high. Add chicken and peppers. Cook for 3-5 minutes on one side, depending on thickness of chicken. Turn and cook another 3 minutes or more on the other side until chicken reaches 160F/71C.
  4. Dietary Preferences: Replace the chicken with cubed tofu (or more veggies) for a vegetarian version. And for a dairy-free version, omit the cheese. 
  5. Make Ahead:
    • The panzanella salad recipe can be made 1-2 hours ahead and left on the counter to develop the flavors.
    • If you want less soggy bread cubes, make everything ahead but add the dressing just before serving. 
    • Leftovers will get a bit soggy in the fridge, but still taste good! 
 
Nutrition values are estimates and will depend on type of chicken used, amount of dressing used, alternative veggies used, etc. Values are based on chicken breasts and no cheese added. 

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Panzanella Salad Recipe with Grilled Chicken
Amount Per Serving
Calories 497 Calories from Fat 234
% Daily Value*
Fat 26g40%
Saturated Fat 4g25%
Trans Fat 1g
Cholesterol 97mg32%
Sodium 1008mg44%
Potassium 916mg26%
Carbohydrates 27g9%
Fiber 3g13%
Sugar 5g6%
Protein 37g74%
Vitamin A 2083IU42%
Vitamin C 66mg80%
Calcium 68mg7%
Iron 3mg17%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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