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Bring a Tuscan classic to the dinner table at home with our Panzanella salad recipe, ideal for putting any stale bread you have in the breadbin to good use.
Panzanella in its pure, authentic form has been eaten not only in Tuscany and Umbria but throughout Italy for centuries. The dish is a testament to the resourceful creativity of humble Italians from the region who had to make nourishing, filling food with the little ingredients they had.
Today, modern takes on Panzanella bring an array of new ingredients and combinations into the dish, and to enjoy a hearty bite of rustic Tuscany in your own home, there are few dishes that come close to this beloved salad.
What is Traditional Panzanella?
Authentic Tuscan and Umbrian Panzanella is a salad dish consisting of stale bread that has been soaked in water (with or without vinegar) and then dried, chopped onion, and tomato (from the 20th century onwards), mixed together for a simple, filling salad.
Bread: As you can see from our recipe and other variations, many modern Panzanella variations use bread that has been toasted or fried to give the salad more texture and a satisfying crunch to go with the chopped ingredients, juices, and oil. This, however, is not the authentic method of soaking the stale bread, as mentioned above.
Traditionally, the bread to use for this salad is Tuscan bread. However, the salad is also delicious if you use French baguette, ciabatta, sourdough, or any crusty bread you prefer.
Additional ingredients: Cucumber and basil are common additions to modern versions of Panzanella, along with olive oil and vinegar dressings and salt and pepper to season.
A wide range of other ingredients have also been used in modern takes of this salad, from mozzarella cheese to bell peppers, but traditionalists do not believe that makes for a true, authentic Panzanella.
To make our Panzanella salad, you will need the following ingredients:
- Tomatoes (an assortment of flavorful, juicy tomatoes) – 1.5 lb (700 grams)
- Red Onion – 1/4 red onion
- Bread – 1/2 pound (225 grams), roughly half the loaf pictured above
- Cucumber – 1/2 large cucumber (optional)
- Basil – 15-20 leaves, chopped
- Salt – 1 tsp Maldon or Kosher salt (or 1/2 tsp table salt)
- Pepper – 1/2 tsp black pepper
- Olive Oil (for baking) – 2 tbsp
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (for the salad dressing) – 6 tbsp
- Red Wine Vinegar – 2 tbsp
Step 1 – Chop the tomatoes, and put them in a bowl with 1 teaspoon of Maldon or kosher salt (or only 1/2 teaspoon of table salt).
Step 2 – Cut the bread into large cubes, drizzle 2 tbsp of olive oil, and toast them at 390°F (200°C) for about 10-12 minutes until they’re golden.
Step 3 – Make the vinaigrette by whisking 2 tbsp of vinegar while very slowly drizzling in the 6 tbsp of olive oil. Season with half teaspoon of black pepper.
Step 4 – Add the toasted bread cubes to the tomatoes and let them absorb the tomato juice.
Step 5 – Add the vinaigrette, chopped cucumber, and thinly sliced red onion, and mix. Let the salad sit for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Step 6 – Add the freshly chopped basil before serving and toss one more time. Taste and add any additional salt and black pepper you need.
Immerse yourself in that juicy and oily goodness, and enjoy a salad this is as herby as it is hearty.
Panzanella really is food to feed the whole family with. You can easily make a big batch of this salad and serve it to kids, relatives, or friends at a dinner party to not only fill their stomachs but also to put a smile on their faces with some classic Mediterranean ingredients.
Naturally, to keep things authentic, Panzanella should be eaten as it is. However, you could consider the following when serving it:
Antipasto Spread – Panzanella could be one of several dishes you serve as an antipasto, along with the likes of olives and cured meats, if you plan to serve additional dishes, or a meat-based course.
Wine – A rosè or dry white wine are a good choice for a complimentary drink for Panzanella.
Beer – Consider a crisp lager or a hoppy ale, nothing too heavy, if you or your guests don’t want to open a bottle of wine.
In my eyes, this salad is Italian cuisine at its purest: honest, simple, yet truly delicious. The next time you see some bread going stale, give this salad a try.
Panzanella Recipe Card
- 1.5 lb (700 grams) tomatoes
- 1/4 red onion
- 1/2 pound (225 grams) bread
- 1/2 large cucumber (optional)
- 15-20 leaves basil
- 1 tsp Maldon or Kosher salt (or 1/2 tsp table salt)
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil (for baking)
- 6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (for the salad dressing)
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- Chop the tomatoes, and put them in a bowl with 1 teaspoon of Maldon or kosher salt (or only 1/2 teaspoon of table salt).
- Cut the bread into cubes, drizzle 2 tbsp of olive oil, and toast them at 390°F (200°C) for about 10-12 minutes until they’re golden.
- Make the vinaigrette by whisking 2 tbsp of vinegar while very slowly drizzling in the 6 tbsp of olive oil. Season with 1/2 tsp of black pepper.
- Add the toasted bread cubes to the tomatoes and let them absorb the tomato juice.
- Add the vinaigrette, chopped cucumber, and thinly sliced red onion to the bowl with tomatoes and bread and mix. Let the salad sit for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
- Add the freshly chopped basil before serving and toss one more time. Taste and add any additional salt and black pepper you need.
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