Panzanella (Tuscan Bread Salad)

Panzanella, a Tuscan bread salad, is a great way to use old bread and avoid cooking in hot weather at the same time. And it is so simple to make, too. Take some slices or chunks of stale bread and dunk them in water until they begin to soften. This should not take long. Remove them and squeeze out the water, then shred the bread with your hands into a salad bowl. Throw in some chopped ripe tomatoes, sliced or chopped red onion and a few basil leaves. Dress your salad in the usual manner, with abundant olive oil, some wine vinegar, salt and pepper. You can serve panzanella immediately if you like, but it doesn’t mind a wait. In fact, it develops flavor if let it rest for a while, say an hour or two. It can even be made well ahead, in which case you may want to hold off on the vinegar, which can become overpowering, until you are ready to serve.
NOTES: It is quite common to add some chopped cucumber to the above basic recipe, which I do whenever I have it on hand. It lends a certain brightness to the recipe. Chopped celery can also be a nice addition. In fact, I sometimes like to experiment with panzanella—with apologies to my Tuscan friends—with all sorts of additional ingredients (see my post on panzanella «con un po’ di tutto»).

Red wine vinegar is usual for panzanella—remembering that Tuscany is the home of Chianti wines—but personally I prefer to use white wine vinegar which doesn’t ‘stain’ the salad and, to my taste anyway, has a less assertive flavor. A few drops of lemon juice would not be amiss, either. There are also recipes that omit any acid altogether. Some recipes call for you to add the vinegar to the water in which the bread is soaked, rather than as part of the dressing.Whether you chop your vegetables large or small is also a matter of taste. I vary according to my mood, although I tend to like moderation in all things, so I usually use a ‘medium’ chop. So those of you who like to get fancy, you can use a very fine chop and form the panzanella in a ring mold in individual portions as an antipasto for an elegant summer meal.The ideal bread would, of course, be Tuscan bread, traditionally the darker pane scuro. But if you don’t happen to live in Tuscany, any good quality, well-structured bread will do the trick. Just make sure it is the kind of bread that will stand up to being soaked, squeezed and shredded without turning into mush. Sandwich bread won’t do—you need the kind of bread that you buy in a whole, unsliced loaf. One good test to see if the bread has adequate structure is to squeeze the loaf when you buy it: if it collapses easily (like Wonder bread) then it won’t work for this dish. The more resistance it gives, the better—well, to a point, of course…The measurements are really totally up to your taste. I’ve seen the dish made with mostly bread, or with mostly vegetables. This being an old peasant dish, surely the proportions depended entirely on what was on hand at the time you made the dish, and that is what I do, too. A good rule of thumb, however, is that bread should make up about half the volume of the salad.

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16 Responses to “Panzanella (Tuscan Bread Salad)”

  1. vittorio
    20 March 2013 at 16:45 #

    When returning every summer to my home town, Pietrasanta, in Toscany, first thing my mother used to make for me was Panzanella and the extra engredients she used to add apart from the ones you mentioned, were, Basel, Capers, the very tiny ones, anchovies fillets and just a bit of cold boiled farro ( SPELT). We have plenty of that in the hills of Lucca.

    • 24 March 2013 at 07:41 #

      I love the idea of adding anchovies and capers. I’ll have to try it this summer! A bit of farro, too, appeals to me, provides a little ‘bite’ I suppose?

  2. 7 September 2010 at 18:13 #

    This dish looks fantastic! I love panzanella.
    We just booked a trip to Italy and seeing your posts make my mouth water for the food.

  3. 4 September 2010 at 10:59 #

    Thanks, folks! This one is a real classic–everyone seems to like it and it's so easy to do.

    @Subterfuge Diva: So kind of you to say.

    @Judith Klinger: Do tell, I'm curious to know about Umbrian panzanella!

  4. 29 August 2010 at 08:47 #

    One of our favorites.
    Love the photo in the window, excellent light and colors!

  5. 28 August 2010 at 12:46 #

    Ciao! Hey, we make Panzanella in Umbria too! :–)
    As with all things Umbrian, it's a less refined, but just as tasty.

  6. 27 August 2010 at 20:07 #

    Panzanella has always been one of my favorites…..your right about varying ingredients, as long as you have a good bread, It's a very versatile salad!

  7. 27 August 2010 at 19:30 #

    I make this once a week with whatever vegetable may be at hand. I do love some red onion soaked in red vinegar. I love how every village has their own recipe.

  8. 27 August 2010 at 17:28 #

    I've been wanting to make my own panzanella for the longest. I mean, it's BREAD salad–everything about it is good. My family would love this. Thanks!

  9. 27 August 2010 at 16:48 #

    This salad looks so flavorful and fresh, even with the day-old bread in it. I'm sorry, but I have to mention this since no one else had… That plate you served the salad in looks stunning and elevates the Panzanella to a new level!

  10. 27 August 2010 at 16:47 #

    delicious salad

  11. 27 August 2010 at 15:34 #

    I've never had a salad that impressed me as much the first time I tried it as Panzanella.

  12. 27 August 2010 at 11:50 #

    Sheer adoration.

  13. 27 August 2010 at 11:39 #

    Looks so simple and very summery!

  14. 27 August 2010 at 11:38 #

    This is a great simple recipe, we tried this in Tuscany and their bread does give it a distinctive flavor. But, I bet it's equally delicious with leftover Italian style bread. I love the tomatoes, cucumbers and basil, have been thinking about making this all summer, thanks for your recipe!

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