Genius Way to Elevate Mozzarella and Tomato

Chef Marcy Ragan Panzanella

The genius of this recipe is the simplicity, you’ll wonder why you never thought of it!  This recipe grabs elements of classic Summer tomato recipes, upends tradition and blends them together. The final dish is a delicious, craveable hybrid. There’s a special spark of flavor in this seemingly ordinary salad. Time to bust out this recipe because it’s finally tomato season!

I have been making this recipe since my oldest son was about 2 months old.  After having him all I wanted to do was cook.  And breastfeed. And eat carbs.  I grilled a lot that Summer practically grilling everything that I could get my hands on.  I then came across a recipe for panzanella, the classic Italian stale bread and tomato salad, and realized I had day-old sourdough bread in the house.  The thought of using stale bread to make panzanella never really appealed to me so I fired up my grill and decided to grill the bread instead.  After I grilled the bread with olive oil till golden brown & grill marked, I decided to use a technique my Stepmom picked up in a Roman restaurant years ago.  The method might be known to many in the world but in my family it was unknown at the time and now has become family food legend.  (Which may sound intense but we have a lot of food stories, we love food.  And talking about food.  I am blessed that in my family -everyone can cook – quite well – and that suits us because we all LOVE to eat).  My Dad and Stepmom were in a a restaurant in Rome and the proprietor gave them an antipasti which featured a neat little trick.  When he removed the brushcetta (grilled bread) from the wood burning grill, he rubbed a clove of garlic over the bread, releasing the oils to flavor the bread. It’s an intoxicating scent, so simple to do which results in the best piece of bread you’ve ever eaten.  Genius and magic, all in one piece of bread.

One recipe led to the next – why not take this magic brushcetta bread and swap it in for the bread in panzanella?  And tomatoes love mozzarella cheese and I do too, so why don’t I just make a caprese/panzanella/bruschetta hybrid?  And I did. This recipe has now been exalted into my family’s cannon of family food recipes. I hope you enjoy it too.


Grilled Caprese Panzanella Salad
Serves 8-12

Please note that the ingredient amounts in this recipe are the ratios that I like to use.  If you like more tomatoes, use more tomatoes.  If you have extra bread or mozzarella in there, go for it.   An extra ounce in a ball of mozzarella or bread or tomato won’t disrupt the balance of flavor.  Just adjust the amount of seasoning a bit and enjoy.

As with all recipes, please read the entire recipe through at least twice before cooking.


One sourdough boule (14-16 oz), sliced thick, about 1/2” thick
One pound fresh mozzarella, cubed into approximately 1/2” cubes
2.5 Pounds (about 3-4 large) fresh ripe tomatoes, cubed into approximately 1/2” cubes
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1-2 large cloves fresh garlic, papery skin off and left whole
1 cup good olive oil or extra virgin olive oil (you can use 1/2 cup olive oil for grilling and 1/2 cup good extra virgin for salad if you desire)
1 Tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt
2 Tsp red wine vinegar

Helpful Tips:
A pastry brush/kitchen brush is great for brushing oil onto bread.
A grill is best here but if you have a cast iron grill pan you can use that too.


•    Fire up your grill or grill pan
•    In a large bowl that you think can fit all of the ingredients, place the tomatoes and about 1/2 Tbsp of salt.  Stir salt through tomatoes and mix gently.
•    With a pastry brush/kitchen brush, brush oil onto slices of bread, both sides and place on platter large enough to accommodate all of the slices and cloves of garlic
•    Grill bread.  Place slice of bread on grill with medium high heat and grill.  Do not move for at least one minute, lift bread up to make sure it is golden brown and grill marked.  If golden brown, turn over, if not, place down for a little bit more time.  You are grilling the bread on both sides.  If for some reason your fire is a little hot and you get too much char on the bread, you can easily cut the char off.  No biggie. You should use about 1/2-3/4 cup oil here.  The remaining oil is for the salad.
•    When bread is grilled on both sides, remove from the heat of the grill.
•    When the bread is cool enough to touch or holding it with tongs, hold garlic clove in hand and rub over bread gently, both sides.  Continue until all bread has garlic on it.
•    Cut bread into 1/2” cubes
•    Taste tomatoes to see if you want to use more salt, if tomatoes have released a lot of liquid, pour liquid from bowl and set aside into a measuring cup. It’s a good idea to set aside some liquid at this time. You can always add it back in. Add more salt if necessary to taste.
•    Add mozzarella to tomatoes. Add basil. Toss together. Add bread to same bowl. Add red wine vinegar, remaining olive oil and salt. Gently mix together.
•    Taste. Pour some (1/4 cup to 1/2 cup) of tomato water into salad if you would like it a little more moist.
•    Enjoy!

Please note that in the picture shown the bread is not cubed.  I wanted to show the grill marks and honestly it photographed better this way!