Panzanella: Tuscan Bread Salad Recipe

Panzanella, Italian Summer Bread Salad from Tuscany

Panzanella is a very simple, moist and fresh bread salad from Tuscany. Panzanella is a great summer recipe because you don’t have to turn on the oven – no cooking is required.  Crunchiness doesn’t come from the bread but from the cucumbers and onions. Its fresh ingredients (and a little water) rejuvenate day-old bread, while keeping your house as cool as possible in the middle of the summer. This is the heart of this fresh salad!

I have seen several panzanella recipes around the internet that recommend toasting the bread or making croutons or perfect bread cubes, but I don’t. You shouldn’t have to – stale bread is already hard! Every time I’ve eaten panzanella deep in the heart of Tuscany, or made it myself, no one turns on an oven, and the only tool you need with the bread is your own hands.

Let me repeat that: you don’t need to toast your bread for panzanella! No croutons, please.

The most authentic bread to use is (unsalted) Tuscan bread. Since it’s made without salt, it took some getting used to when I lived there. If you’ve never tried unsalted bread, do. You’ll notice something’s “wrong” immediately. If you don’t have Tuscan bread on hand, you’ll want bread that’s not going to get soggy/mushy but will crumble when moistened.

Do you have a really good bottle of extra virgin olive oil sitting in your back cupboard you’ve been afraid to open but were waiting for a special occasion? This is the time to open it. The better the olive oil, the fresher the basil, the sweeter the tomatoes – each ingredient will make this salad more delicious.

The list of ingredients for the salad is quite short. What’s “missing” from this recipe? Nothing! Olives, cheese, capers, balsamic vinegar, bell peppers…you don’t need them! Of course, after you try traditional traditional panzanella the first time, you may want to add some more ingredients – but keep that oven off!

Panzanella Salad Recipe

Note: Remember that the bread should be the star of this dish, so keep its quantity higher than the other ingredients. Using unsalted Tuscan bread requires a little extra salt be put into the salad – make sure you taste it after adding the olive oil and vinegar to determine how much salt to add.

Day-old bread (unsalted Tuscan is most authentic)
Cucumber, peeled
Tomatoes (Roma/San Marzano/plum varieties suggested)
Basil leaves
Red Onion
Olive oil & vinegar
Salt & Pepper

Suggestions for serving two people: 4-5 slices of day-old bread (1/2 loaf), 1 cucumber, 4 (Roma / small) tomatoes (or 1-2 large), 5-10 basil leaves, 1/4 red onion.

  1. Take the day-old bread, and lightly moisten it under the faucet. It should be moistened all the way through. If it’s too wet, gently squeeze excess water from the bread with your hands and set aside while chopping vegetables. The bread should crumble, not clump/collapse or get soggy.
  2. Shred the bread into a large salad bowl. I like to keep some larger pieces of bread in my panzanella, but you can crumble the bread down until there are very fine pieces, or “breadcrumbs” that resemble more couscous.
  3. Cut the cucumbers and tomatoes into pieces and add them to the bowl. Thinly slice a red onion and chiffonade the basil (or shred it with your hands).
  4. Add vinegar and olive oil and mix completely (start with a small amount of each, like 1 T. of vinegar and 3 T. of olive oil) and add more to taste. Taste before adding salt and pepper.
  5. The salad can be served immediately or chilled for 30 minutes in the refrigerator before serving.

Have you had traditional panzanella? How do you make panzanella at home?

Some other links that embrace the traditional “panmolle” (soft bread) concept:

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  1. says

    Sara –

    I agree with you that no toasting. But in that case the bread MUST be a GOOD Italian stale bread like maybe Ciabatta, with big holes!!


  2. lsheryl says

    Thanks for the inspiration! I just went through the list of ingredients and it’s stuff we have in our fridge all the time. Day old bread – always! Will try this!

    Hope you’re having a good summer.

  3. says

    Exactly right. We have this all the time in summer in California and in Piano di Collecchia in Tuscany. It’s what you do to revive good bread you couldn’t eat fast enough. Much better than baking-in preservatives so you can have bread that preserves the same crappy flavor for months. Croutons? Pfft.

  4. Ms. Adventures in Italy says

    We were trying to brainstorm a list of meals that don’t require turning on the oven or stovetop – the list is pretty short! I love eating this salad best outdoors…

  5. says

    Couldn’t agree with you more! I’ve never toasted bread for panzanella, that’s why it is so perfect for the summer. NO cooking required!
    I must have fresh tomatoes, basil and red onion if I’m going to make it. Cucumber is appreciated, but optional.
    Great post!

  6. Melanie says

    We make panzanella at least once a week in late summer. My kids love it! No toasting the bread, and we don’t add any onion, but we sometimes put in slices of fresh mozzarella. mmmmm!

  7. Christopher says

    Thanks for this great recipe. I just tried it with an olive/rosemary loaf with great success.
    I keep forgetting the cucumber…

  8. Sara says

    I was in Tuscany last year and discovered that the original, pre-new-world version of panzanella uses sour cherries in place of tomatoes. We made it while we were there, and it was truly delicious. You don’t change a single thing except to use cherries rather than tomatoes. I hope you can give it a try sometime!

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