a fresh take on panzanella: zucchini, sausage, and garlic whole wheat bagel croutons

by Chen

“Stay away from bagels! They are all carbs!”

Did you ever hear that before? I did, for many times, especially when I was trying to be less horizontally challenged years ago. But I was quite relieved to learn that there was no need to erase all my memories about that chewy texture from my life.

Of course, here is the bottom line:

* ALWAYS go for the whole wheat/whole grain ones. What need to be eliminated is not carbs, but pure/over-processed carbs.
* Be creative. Besides cream cheese, there are many alternatives packed with healthy fat and protein for the in-between layer: guacamole, hummus, and, my favorite, peanut butter!

Still want something unique? How about this perfect spring bread salad?

zucchini, sausage, and garlic whole wheat bagel croutons salad
Makes 1 serving as a main dish

For the crouton:
1 whole wheat bagel, cut into bite-size cubes
1 tsp EVOO
1 clove garlic, fined chopped
a pinch of salt

For the dressing:
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 scant tsp honey
1-2 tsp your favorite vinegar (my cider vinegar worked very well today)

For the salad:
1 small zucchini (about 1 inch in diameter and 6-8 inch long), cubed
2 oz fresh sausage, case removed
a little bit EVOO to coat the pan
chicken broth as needed
salt and pepper
1 tbsp Parmesan cheese

I. Prepare the bagel: Preheat the oven to 400F. Toss bagel cubes, EVOO, garlic, and salt together and spread on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes, and let cool slightly.

(This step can be done on stovetop as well. Just toast the bread in a nonstick pan over low heat.)

II. Prepare the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk the three ingredients together and set aside.

III. Prepare the salad: Heat a little EVOO in a pan over medium-low heat. Brown the sausage and break any large lumps. When the meat is no longer pink, add the zucchini to the pan and stir fry. If the mixture gets too dry, add 1 tbsp chicken broth (using water is fine). Once the zucchini gets crisp-tender, turn off the heat.

In a large bowl, gently toss croutons, zucchini and sausage mixture, and dressing together. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Top with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Let the salad stand for a while before digging in. The flavors will marry each other!