Summer is the season for salads. Usually, I keep it simple: some greens and avocado, but sometimes, I crave something a bit heartier, a bit fancier, a bit more Italian. For those occasions, I serve a salad created by my mother-in-law, Susan, that is so spectacular, it doesn’t even call itself salad. It calls itself panzanella. Oh my, it’s as though I’ve been swept away to the hills of Tuscany.
Of course, in Tuscany, the locals probably wouldn’t call this panzanella because of all the untraditional ingredients, but that would be their loss because it tastes awesome sauce. And it’s gluten-free. And it’s got grilled eggplant. And it’s topped with vegan parmesan. What? Your mouth is watering already?! I haven’t even mentioned the polenta, tomatoes, olives, capers and Cannellini beans!
Yes, the polenta is a little time consuming, but it is pure amazingness in the salad and it’s actually quite easy to make as you can see in my neat little graphic below. Or, you can cheat just a little bit by purchasing pre-cooked polenta. That will cut your prep time way down because all you’ll need to do is quickly fry it before adding it to the panzanella.
For my pictures, I sadly forgot to add in the Cannellini beans, but don’t forget to put them in the salad. They add protein, texture and flavor! Also, the vegan parmesan is a must. It’s the final touch that ties the whole salad together. In fact, you might want to make extra because it’s so tasty you’ll probably be wanting to put vegan parmesan on everything from now on!
- ¾ cup polenta (or organic grits)
- 3 cups vegetable broth (or sub water)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1½ tbsp. nutritional yeast
- Olive oil or cooking spray for frying
- 3 cups cherry tomatoes
- 1 can Cannellini beans
- ¾ lb. eggplant, cut into ½ inch thick pieces
- ½ cup Kalmata olives
- ½ medium purple onion, chopped
- 10-12 large basil leaves, chiffonade
- 2 tbsp. capers
- 2 cups spinach
- 1 cup arugula
- 2 cups Romaine lettuce, chopped
- 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
- 3 tbsp. lemon juice
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 tbsp. slivered almonds
- 2 tbsp. pine nuts
- 1 tbsp. nutritional yeast
- 1 tbsp. white sesame seeds
- Cook the Polenta: Combine all ingredients in a saucepan, stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for about 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens. It should start to pull away from the sides of the pan and should be firm enough to support a metal spoon. Spread into a 7x11 inch pan and refrigerate. Once cooled, cut into 16 triangles and fry in 1-2 tbsp of olive oil (or use cooking spray).
- Grill the Eggplant: Toss in 1 tbsp. of olive oil (or use cooking spray) and grill each side for about 3 minutes. I used my stovetop grill pan.
- Make the Vegan Parmesan: Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until finely chopped and combined.
- Make the Dressing: Combine all ingredients.
- Assemble the Salad: Combine the grilled eggplant, tomatoes, beans, olives, onion, basil, and capers in a large salad bowl. Cut each piece of polenta in half and add it to the salad. Add the spinach, arugula, lettuce and ¼ - ½ cup of dressing and toss to combine.
- Top with vegan parmesan to serve.
*Cooking the eggplant in the oven or in a frying pan will work well in place of grilling.