Usually associated with Tuscany, Panzanella is made of dry bread reconstituted with water served with a simple dressing of vinegar and olive oil. Modern versions feature tomatoes, but these were not available until arriving from the New World via Spain in the 16th Century. Before then, similar salads combined moistened bread with onions, cucumbers and other garden vegetables.
The current formula is dry bread moistened with water and tossed with tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, basil and vinaigrette. The bread used in this version is not a day old loaf of Tuscan bread, but rather a French baguette that has been cubed, tossed in olive oil, salted and toasted in the oven. Large croutons if you like.
There are a couple of other departures from standard. First, tomato water is used to moisten the bread. This adds a dimension of flavor beyond simply using water. It’s worth noting that the bread is moistened and softened, but still retains some texture and chew. Other recipes may call for completely soaking the bread followed by squeezing it dry. I’ll stick with moistened.
Capers and oil cured olives are also tossed with the salad. Both ingredients find their way into other recipes for Panzanella so adding these is not a big departure from tradition. I like the salty notes these add.
Panzanella is refreshing on a warm day. It makes a great lunch or even a light dinner. Because of its simplicity, seek out and use the best ingredients you can find. Ripe, or even overripe tomatoes along with a crusty, rustic loaf of bread combine for an excellent rendition of this Tuscan classic.
This salad is a fine accompaniment to roasted chicken as Judy Rodgers demonstrated time and again at Zuni. Serve with any wine, either red or white, that you like and find on hand. The recipe serves two.
- Crusty bread cut into large, 1/2” cubes. About 3 cups
- Good quality extra virgin olive oil
- Generous pinch of coarse sea salt
- 4 medium heirloom tomatoes ripe or overripe cut in to 6 to 8 wedges depending on size
- 1 medium size cucumber peeled, seeds removed cut into 1/4” moons
- 1 medium size red onion cut in 1/4” dice
- 2 tablespoons capers
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 1 dozen oil cured black olives or more if you like
- 1/3 cup vinaigrette (see recipe below)
- Fresh Basil
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- In a large bowl, toss cubed bread in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add a generous pinch of coarse sea salt.
- Arrange the olive oil coated cubed bread on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the over for 10 minutes turning the bread half way through the cooking time. When toasted and lightly browned remove the bread from the oven and set aside until needed.
- While the bread is in the oven, placed the tomato wedges in a colander over a large bowl. Add two generous pinches (about 1/2 tablespoon) of sea salt to the tomatoes and toss. Let sit over the bowl for at least 10 minutes or until the tomatoes release most of their water.
- Toss the toasted bread cubes in the bowl with tomato water to moisten. To the same bowl add tomato wedges, cucumber, red onion, capers and a generous amount of black pepper. Add vinaigrette (see directions below) and toss to combine all ingredients. Place the tossed Panzanella in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes so the bread continues to moisten and the flavors meld.
- When ready to serve, divide salad into two serving bowls. Divide the olives in two portions and place over the salad. Tear fresh basil over the salad to garnish and serve.
For the vinaigrette
In a small bowl whisk together:
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 2 cloves of garlic finely minced
- 1 teaspoon coarse grain mustard such as Maille
- 1 pinch sugar
- Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- 6 tablespoons of good quality extra virgin olive oil