Panzanella is one of those simple salads that tastes much better than expected and is greater than the sum of its parts. The vegetables exude some of their juices while combining with the vinegar and oil and the bread soaks it up. A large portion can serve as an entree (as the Italians do in the summer) and then there’ll be room for a splendid dessert such as gelato and cookies. If protein is desired, accompany the salad with a boiled egg or two, or perhaps some salumi.
The traditional Tuscan method for Panzanella uses stale unsalted homemade bread which is soaked in water and then squeezed out. The bread crumbles into the salad sort of like couscous. I personally like using toasted rustic bread which has been torn into bite size pieces. The bread softens a bit when it soaks up the juices but still retains some of it’s chewy texture.
This salad is quite flexible and the measures in the recipe are really just a guideline: If more tomatoes are desired, then just add more; want more onion — add it; really love cucumber — add more; same for the bread. Conversely, use less of what you don’t like.
- 1 lb. or two to three large sliced fresh tomatoes OR a pint of grape tomatoes (heirloom, grape, campari or other flavorful variety)
- 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced crosswise into ¼ inch pieces
- Three to four slices of stale and/or toasted rustic bread, torn into bite size pieces
- ½ of a small red onion, thinly sliced
- A bunch of fresh basil leaves, torn or rough chopped (20 to 30 leaves)
- Two drizzle turns of Italian red wine vinegar (Colavita brand is good) - about two Tablespoons
- Two or three drizzle turns of extra virgin olive oil - about three to four Tablespoons
- Salt and pepper to taste (two to three pinches of each)
- Combine all the vegetables, basil, bread, salt and pepper in a big bowl.
- Toss well to combine.
- Drizzle with the vinegar and first two tablespoons/turns of olive oil and toss again to coat everything.
- Let sit for 30 minutes to let the juices from the vegetables release and soak into the bread, tossing again once or twice during that time.
- Add another drizzle/turn (about 1 Tablespoon) of olive oil and toss again.
The Divina Cucina website has a great article on Panzanella (and other Italian delights) which includes a short helpful video on making the salad.