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)
Tomatoes (Roma/San Marzano/plum varieties suggested)
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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:
- Panzanella from Divina Cucina
- Panzanella from Epicurious
- Panzanella from Cook Almost Anything
- Clotilde from Chocolate and Zucchini addresses the panzanella “authenticity” problem in her own panzanella post