Panzanella Salad With Chicken and Mozzarella

4 servings
28 min

Bread salad?! Yes please! Here's a modern version of the traditional Italian salad: Panzanella. We added some mozzarella and chicken for extra yumm!

I'm a big fan of Caprese salads, but wanted to do something a little different this time. This recipe has all the usual suspects: tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. But it also has chicken, red onions, and homemade croutons!

Note: This post contains affiliate links.

Okay, so technically, a panzanella salad is nothing like a caprese salad. It's an Italian dish, yes. It has tomatoes, yes. But a very traditional panzanella, from what I understand, is a salad of bread, olive oil, and onions. In Italian the word ' panzanella' is a combo of the words for 'bread' and 'deep dish.' So, this is very much a bread salad. In the 20th century, tomatoes were added into the mix.

A modern panzanella salad typically has these as a base: bread, olive oil, onion & tomato. And then you perhaps add some cucumber, fruit, cheese (mozzarella, feta or parmesan), capers, basil, parsley, roasted peppers, olives, sturdy greens, vinegar, etc. I feel like we live in more culinarily irreverent times. So, it seems like you can make this salad whatever you want, as long as it still has the delicious croutons!

Traditionally, you want to use stale bread for the salad croutons. Pretty much any rustic bread, just not sour dough. The flavor of sour dough doesn't really work for this salad. Stale bread will absorb juices better than fresh bread, and without falling apart, but for this recipe, we operate under the assumption that you haven't planned ahead in the week to let bread grow stale. So, our instructions are to put cubed fresh bread in the oven for a bit. Same effect.

Like many of our recipes, this recipe is very customizable. Panzanella salad has some basic key components, but you can make it whatever you want. For instance, think about what your kids like. The second time I made this salad, I added cucumber because my kids love cucumber. And, while it's not very common, we added chicken to the salad. That way the salad could be hearty enough to satisfy stronger appetites, as a strand-alone dinner dish. 

As I shared above, you can add almost anything to your panzanella. Here are some popular ingredients: bread, olive oil, onion, tomato, cucumber, fruit, cheese (mozzarella, feta or parmesan), capers, basil, parsley, roasted peppers, olives, sturdy greens, vinegar, etc.

Panzanella Salad With Chicken and Mozzarella
Recipe details
  • 4  servings
  • Prep time: 6 Minutes Cook time: 22 Minutes Total time: 28 min
Show Nutrition Info
Hide Nutrition Info

  • 2 t salt (divided)
  • 1 t Italian seasoning
  • 1 small lemon, zested & juiced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or zested
  • 1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 loaf of any rustic bread (but not sourdough)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (divided)
  • cooking spray
  • 3 heirloom tomatoes, cut into thick slices
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cucumber, peeled & chopped
  • 1 cup fresh basil, cut into strips
  • 6 oz mozzarella balls, ciliegine
  • 3 T balsamic vinegar

Set oven to 400 degrees.
In a small bowl, combine 1 1/2 t of the salt, Italian seasoning, lemon zest and garlic. Place chicken in medium bowl and sprinkle mixture on top. Toss and set aside.
Cut loaf into 1" cubes (makes ~ 3 cups of bread cubes). Put cubes in a large bowl. Drizzle lemon juice, 1/2 of the olive oil, and 1/2 t of the salt over bread. Mix together with your hands, kind of sponging it together. Place bread cubes on a baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes, max. Bread should be toasted but not dried through.
Meanwhile, coat a grill pan with cooking spray, using a basting brush to spread it, and heat on medium. Once hot, lay chicken on pan and cook for 10 minutes, flipping over several times. Remove chicken from heat, and once cooled, cut into strips.
Plate the salad individually: 2-4 tomato slices, topped with a few slices of red onion, some cucumber, strips of basil, croutons, and mozzarella. Mix together the balsamic vinegar and the other 1/2 of the olive oil. Drizzle roughly 2 t of that mix over each plate (4 plates total).
  • Get a good olive oil. If you can splurge a bit on any one ingredient, choose a great olive oil. The combo of the bread and olive oil is really the star of a panzanella. Moreover, I would go with extra virgin olive oil, either Italian or Spanish, stored in a dark glass bottle.
  • Don't over-bake the bread. You want it soft on the inside but a little crunchy on the outside.
Marcie and Julie at Platein28
Want more details about this and other recipes? Check out more here!