Baked Panzanella Caprese


Earlier this week someone asked me who my biggest influences are in the kitchen.


My Mom, of course, immediately springs to mind.

PS did you know “Iowa Mom Eats” is like the third most searched term for my blog? You love her as much as I do! ;)


My Mom passed on the desire to make home-cooked meals for my family no matter how hectic the week gets, then sit down to enjoy them together.


While Ben and I don’t get to physically sit down with one another for dinner as often as I’d like during the week, due to varying work schedules, he knows he’s always got a plate of somethin’ waiting for him when he gets home. ;)


Celebrity chefs I followed when I first got interested in cooking after college also influenced me in the kitchen. Women like Ina Garten & Giada Di Laurentiis who cook simple, uncomplicated recipes with in-season ingredients were, and continue to be, my absolute favorites to watch and glean inspiration from.


(FYI, I may or may not want to, uh, BE Ina Garten when I grow up. Oooo, or at least dress up like her for Halloween!! Ben can be Jeffrey! Now to track down a denim shirt and fake bangs… )


Ahem, anyways…

Tonight’s dinner really sums up what I’ve picked up from all these different sources of inspiration. It’s what I’m all about in the kitchen. A perfect combination of homemade & satisfying, simple & seasonal: Baked Panzanella CapreseSoul-satisfying flavors like salt, pepper, olive oil and garlic, meld with gooey mozzarella, fragrant basil, warm tomato and toasty bread in an intensely delicious dish.


As Ben put it, “this is seriously the best thing you’ve made in a really long time.” Gee, thanks?! ;)


Baked Panzanella Caprese is as easy as it is mouthwatering. It’s one of those “no recipe” kind of recipes. Once you’ve got all the ingredients together, you just kind of pile them in a baking dish as you see fit.

Here’s what you’ll need for 2 servings:


  • 2 large tomatoes, sliced into 1/2″ slices
  • salt & pepper
  • balsamic vinegar
  • 6-7 slices of fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 10-15 leaves of fresh basil
  • 4 slices good quality white bread (this is not the place to use store-bought and/or whole wheat!)
  • olive oil

Into two non-stick sprayed, personal-sized baking dishes (or one 8×8″ baking dish) layer the tomato slices.


Sprinkle on salt, pepper,


and splash of balsamic vinegar.


Layer on the fresh mozzarella cheese,


then spread on microplaned garlic (or finely minced garlic.)


Next sprinkle on fresh basil,


and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.


Top with thick-cut, fresh white bread, then drizzle with more extra virgin olive oil and salt & pepper.


I think individual sized baking dishes add to the rustic charm of this dish. :)


Bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees, then dig into the best thing you’ve had all week.


The garlic permeates every bite, while the crispy, salty bread soaks up the warm tomato and balsamic vinegar drippings. OH MY GOOD GOSH, this was incredible. My mouth is still watering!!!


Now, while my Mom and several celebrity chefs have influenced my cooking, my dear old Dad has definitely influenced my eating. Namely imparting a wicked sweet tooth to his daughter. Thinking I might be able to convince Ben to take me Dairy Queen for a mini blizzard for dessert before football starts tonight?! Wish me luck!!!


Who has been YOUR biggest influence in the kitchen? Favorite celebrity chef?

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  1. Cindy 09.08.2011

    My friend, Trish, and Julia Child.

  2. To “man” that up, totaly could add chunks of chicken in there! TRYING IT!!!

  3. Nancy 09.08.2011

    Too bad I’ve already had my dinner! Will have to try this!

  4. I totally saw this episode for Giada!!! I went home and made it too but with pesto. Soooo yummy!

  5. Renee 09.08.2011

    My biggest influence in the kitchen is, of course, my mother and my favorite celebrity Paula Deen :)

  6. Definitely my mom. Stuff she threw together that I never gave a thought to when I was little are my favorite dishes now! i mean, I always liked dinner, but I totally took it for granted, you know? Her fried potatoes and salmon patties are still the best i’ve ever tasted!

    Your mom is so cute, Kristin. :)

  7. Lauren 09.08.2011

    I have always been a fan of Giada. But I think my biggest inspiration comes from my dad. He continues to be my favorite and most valued chef that I look up to.

  8. Alyse 09.08.2011

    Ina and Jeffrey have got to be THE cutest Food Network couple. I mean, I just want to watch them all the time. Adorable.

    I used to watch Epicurious on the Discovery Channel with my mom when I was a kid. That definitely got me interested. But my mom was definitely the defining food muse for me. She taught me how to bake bread and make a killer vegetable soup.

    Hooray for all the cooking Mama’s out there!

  9. A.J. 09.08.2011

    My favorite celeb chef is Elie Krieger. She is a dietician, so her recipes are healthy. I like all of her cookbooks. She used to be on the Food Network, but not sure she is any more. I don’t watch TV much these days!

  10. Jana 09.08.2011

    If you want to satisfy a sweet tooth you should visit VanDee’s in Johnston. I cute local ice cream shop that is WAY better than Dairy Queen, but only open for a short time still.

  11. BeccaV 09.08.2011

    My mom was the same way, always a home cooked meal. We never had packaged food in the house, she always made everything from scratch.
    My biggest influences are Ina (my husband always makes fun of her and “Jeffery”!), I have a lot of Cooking Light recipes that I keep going back to and my Cooks Illustrated New Best Recipes book, you can’t go wrong with anything in that book. I’ve gifted it many times and everyone loves it!

  12. Dee 09.08.2011

    My mom baked bread from scratch, made pickles, canned fruits and jellies, and taught me that anyone can make a trip to the store and follow a recipe, but great cooks know how to make something from what’s on hand.
    I taught my 13 year old son to make chicken parmesan tonight and then bragged about it on Facebook. Does that make him a celebrity chef? lol

  13. Anna 09.08.2011

    Yum!! My parents just gave me a huge bag of ‘maters from their garden! I WILL be making this before the weekend is over. I <3 Ina too!

  14. Morgan 09.08.2011

    I don’t even like tomatoes and this looks awesome! I’ll havew to give it a whirl. I’d say my biggest influences have been my mom, grandmas and probably Rachael Ray. I’m a fan of fast. :)

  15. Jennie Morton 09.08.2011

    I come from a long line of non-cooks, cutting my teeth as a fledgling baker, and got into heavy-duty cooking once I had a kitchen in college. My best friend’s mom growing up was an awesome cook – the kind who never measured or used recipes and always had picture-perfect dishes. I’m a big fan of Guy Fieri and Alton Brown.

  16. My mom cooked a ton and I helped her, so that’s where I found my love of cooking. When I moved out on my own initially, I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed in the kitchen. I’m not sure when I turned into such a confident cook!

  17. Kristin 09.08.2011

    My biggest influence was my grandma. She was a fabulous cook and baker. My one request when she passed was for her cookbooks.
    celebrity chef= nigella lawson.

  18. Sydney 09.08.2011

    I love Giada and Barefoot Contessa too! I watch a lot of them at the gym (and promptly drool all over the treadmill!)

  19. Mer @mersworld 09.08.2011

    My dad definitely had the most influence! Some of my favorite memories are spending time together in the kitchen as he taught me to bake, eyeball measurements and tossing things together, ‘because it seems like they go together’. Thanks for sharing your inspirations, it brought back some great memories and smiles as I thought of mine~ I also like Ina and Giada, but I used to love watching Julia!

  20. sms 09.08.2011

    My biggest influence (celebrity wise) is Alton Brown. I even started a Julie/Julia-style blog and began cooking his recipes, but my career sometimes gets in the way of achieving that project, so it is on hold. Still though . . . I’ve made about ten of his recipes, and I have learned so much about cooking already.

  21. Meagan 09.08.2011

    My Mother, Grandma and many food blogs, including yours! :)

  22. Leslie Means 09.08.2011

    Like you – my mom has been my biggest influence in the kitchen. She always made wonderful homemade recipes for my family. I have continued the tradition with my own girls in my kitchen. I love making new memories for my own girls. :)

  23. debbie 09.08.2011

    I’m definitely making this. Yum.

  24. Looks amazing and oh so simple. I still have tomatoes ripening in my garden, along with some home grown basil…this will be exactly what I’ll do with those lovelies…thanks for the Italian inspiration!

  25. Rachel 09.08.2011

    My mom was a big influence. Once my sister & I got into high school, it was pretty much up to us to make dinner for ourselves. When we moved out, we experimented a lot in the kitchen–She was vegetarian at the time & we got pretty good at making meals we both could eat. And when I had cable, I watched Food Network & would experiment on my husband! Now cookbooks & food blogs are my inspriation…And I’m making that Baked Panzanella Caprese ASAP!

  26. Lesley 09.08.2011

    OMG, that looks AMAZING! I felt like caps were deserved for that one! Let’s see, I think my mom is a great cook, but I’ve always really admired my Aunt Lyn, my dad’s twin sister. She and her husband cook all the time, very low cost, and it’s so simple but so good. Plus she makes the best pies and they make everything,….everything….,from scratch. Naturally, we do Thanksgiving at their house a lot! Celebrity chefs I like Ina & Giada too.

  27. Denise 09.08.2011

    I met your mom today! Our encounter was brief while I helped her find some gift items, but I could instantly tell she’s a very proud mom and grandma. Thanks for sharing your wonderful family with all of us!

    p.s. – If I liked tomatoes (actually, I like everything MADE with tomatoes, but just can’t eat one – despite my own mom’s efforts to get me to do so when I was growing up!), I’d be all over this recipe!

  28. Very sweet post about your Mom. Mine is one of my biggest inspirations, too! She always had a dinner on the table, no matter what. I can only hope to be as amazing as her!

  29. caroline 09.09.2011

    love your blog. found it via googling “how to run longer” or something like that. I hope you don’t mind that I’ll be doing some backtracking and reading some of your older posts for inspiration. thanks!

  30. Kristyn 09.09.2011

    My favorite celebrity chef is Emeril. I worked in his restaurant in college as a cocktail waitress and he was the nicest guy in the world and so passionate about food. Everything I’ve ever tried in any of his restaurants has been delicious!

  31. Allison 09.09.2011

    Ina and her husband are totes adorable! I’ll always remember one specific episode where she cooks chicken for him because he’s away all week and it’s his favorite meal :) Tomatoes with a sprinkle of salt and splash of balsamic vinegar is a great dish!

  32. Linda Kidd 09.09.2011

    Your Grandmother Alice! I always remember her having a sit down meal everynight – with the family around her and your Grandfather at the head of the table!

  33. Hope 09.09.2011

    Yum! This dinner looks delicious! I am a big fan of Giada! I met her at her book signing a couple of years ago and she is super nice! I was really nervous that she wasn’t going to be as nice as she seems on tv but she definitely was! :)

  34. Em 09.09.2011

    Very great!
    Another use for all the tomatoes in my life right now!

    Great tribute to your momma, too. :)

  35. Elyse 09.09.2011

    My favorite chef is Emeril; BAM! (Had to) I too am from the south and love how he incorporates going green and using local produce into the classic southern dishes. I also adore Giada, Ina, and Rachel Ray. Your dinner looks insane by the way! I can’t wait to make it! Have a great weekend :-D

  36. Betsey 09.09.2011

    My mother and grandmother are my biggest influence. They’re both amazing cooks (and bakers) and you never leave their homes hungry!
    I also look to several food blogs for inspiration, with yours at the top of the list!

  37. my mom and grandma. and ellie krieger!

  38. This looks so good. I’m making it next week and I’m sure my husband will have the same reaction!

  39. My mom is my biggest influence, for sure! I never laid a hand on cooking utensils growing up (unless it was for baking cookies) because she was always in charge of doing it all in the kitchen, but just WATCHING her doing her thing for years was what imparted a natural ease to cooking for me. And an instinct for what flavor combinations would work.

    Pretty soon here I’ll have to start asking for Persian recipes and really transform into my mother :)

  40. Stephanie Clement 09.09.2011

    GREAT sounding recipe!! Quick question. In one of your photos you display two types of bread cuts. One baking dish displayed larger peices while the other had the smaller cubes. Did one work better than the other? Also, do you think you’d be able to do this in non-individual (haha or well “regular sized” baking) dish? It looks soo good!

    • Iowa Girl Eats 09.09.2011

      They both worked equally as well – I just cut mine into cubes so I could use a little less bread. :) You could totally do this in a regular sized dish – the original recipe called for a 9×12 pan!

  41. […] end rant. This week has been long enough as it is. Since I saw her post yesterday, I had it in my head that I needed to make Baked Panzanella Caprese, as Iowa Girl Eats did. I had […]

  42. Jen 09.09.2011

    Your Mom seems so sweet. I think she needs a cooking blog! I love Giada, The Neely’s, Paula, The Pioneer Woman of course and Kelsey Nixon (Kelsey’s Essentials on The Cooking Channel). I totally love your recipes as well, and have been finding inspiration in them a lot lately since I have come across your blog.

  43. […] to turn cooler, I tend to crave more comforting and warm dinners. I saw this recipe on another food blog I follow and immediately rushed out to buy a ball of fresh mozzarella cheese. The high price (I don’t […]

  44. […] Baked Panzanella Caprese from Iowa Girl Eats […]

  45. Lauren 02.15.2012

    Just made the baked caprese. IT. WAS. DELICIOUS! thank you!

  46. Jess 02.19.2012

    I loved this recipe! My husband is the “chef” in our household, so I was excited when I saw this and thought, “I can make that!” The two grocery stores I visited this weekend didn’t have large loaves of white bread, so I used a loaf of crusty garlic bread – so good! Thanks for sharing!!

  47. Cheryl 02.27.2012

    Love caprese but this sounds great for winter when the tomatoes aren’t as good. Your comments about Ina Garten made me smile because I always thought that she and I could be great friends.

  48. […] but certainly not least on the weekly menu is Baked Panzanella Caprese. This recipe is from Iowa Girl Eats, who adapted it from Giada De Laurentiis. This just sounds indulgent and decadent and OH SO GOOD. […]

  49. […] I also get a lot of inspiration from my Mom. She’s the reason I love cooking so much in the first place, and I often think back to the meals she’d whip up back in the day when trying to decide what […]

  50. Carla 02.22.2013

    HI…just wondering..would this be used as an appetizer or your main meal? I want to make it and wasn’t sure..was going to make it and serve with a salad and nothing else but wasn’t sure if that would be enough? (for 2 ppl)…thanks – looks delish!

    • Iowa Girl Eats 02.22.2013

      We had these as a main dish, but a chopped up cooked chicken breast or two inside would make this even more hearty.

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