Panzanella salad is a rustic easy-to-make Italian dish, made with stale bread, soaked in water and vinegar, tomatoes, cucumbers, onion and basil. All seasoned with extra virgin olive oil and salt.
Panzanella salad is a typical dish of Tuscan cuisine and, more generally, of central Italy. Tuscany with Umbria, Lazio and Marche contend for its origin.
This is a dish of the peasant tradition, a recovery dish created to use stale bread, like the famous Pappa al Pomodoro, a very simple yet very tasty Italian recipe.
Panzanella salad is perfect for the summer season when you can find the tastiest very ripe tomatoes. It’s vegetarian and doesn’t require cooking and you can prepare it ahead of time, store in the refrigerator and enjoy as an appetizer or as a real single summer dish.
For the success of this recipe you need to buy ingredients of the highest quality. First of all the bread: in Italy we use the Tuscan type, without salt, with natural leavening and a few days old. Then you need only an excellent extra virgin olive oil, sun-ripened tomatoes and fresh basil.
Now we are going to show you how to make the authentic Tuscan bread salad called Panzanella. If you like, you can even try other traditional Italian recipes that use stale bread, such as Passatelli recipe for example, if you want a greedy soup, or the Chocolate Bread Cake if you prefer a dessert.
How to Make Panzanella Salad
- Prep Time: 15 Min
- Soaking Time: 20 Min
- Rest Time: 1 Hour
- 300 g ( 10,5 oz) of stale bread (if possible without salt)
- 300 g (10,5 oz) of ripe red tomatoes (like cluster tomatoes)
- 1 onion
- 1 cucumber
- 5 fresh basil leaves
- 350 ml of cool water
- 50 ml of White Wine Vinegar
- 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- fine salt to taste
- freshly ground black pepper
Kitchen Tools and Equipment for Making Panzanella Salad
The execution of this recipe is really very simple. Its success depends only on the quality of the few ingredients required and does not want special tools and techniques.
However, if you want to make your table more gorgeous and want to amaze your guests, we suggest to serve Italian Panzanella salad in a beautiful typical salad bowl and in rustic dishes, just like those of the Tuscan tradition.
Step 1) – Cut the bread into coarse pieces and place them in a large bowl.
Step 2) – Add the vinegar to the water then pour it on the bread. The bread should be completely sprinkled with water and vinegar but should not be put completely under water. Let the bread absorb the water+vinegar for about 20 minutes.
Step 3) – Meanwhile, cut the onion into very thin slices. If you want to sweeten the onion flavor a little and make it more digestible, you can put the slices in a bowl with cold water for about 20 minutes. Then remove the onion from the water and dry it.
Step 4) – Then cut the cucumber and tomatoes into pieces.
Step 5) – After about 20 minutes, squeeze the bread well with your hands. It should become almost dry. Crumble it into a large salad bowl. Add the tomatoes.
Step 6) – Then add the onion slices, the cucumber and plenty of hand-chopped fresh basil. Season with plenty of oil, a little fine salt to taste and freshly ground black pepper. If you like a more acidic taste, you can add a few drops of balsamic white wine vinegar.
Mix all the ingredients well and let Panzanella rest in a cool place for about an hour. Your Panzanella salad is ready!
You can keep Panzanella salad in the refrigerator for a maximum of 2 days, in an airtight food container. Freezing is not recommended.
About the Main Ingredient of Panzanella Salad: The Bread
Obviously, the traditional recipe of Panzanella salad wants homemade Tuscan bread called “pane sciocco” in Tuscan dialect, that is “bread without salt”.
Tuscan bread is unsalted, durum wheat with a very firm crumb and a crunchy crust.Its crumb, in fact, when wet remains grainy and does not become sticky and soggy like other types of bread.
Wet and very well squeezed Tuscan bread maintains a particular consistency that looks like “cous cous” and does not turn into a soft porridge.
Obviously it’s not always easy to find authentic Tuscan homemade bread. But the bread you choose has to be similar if you want to get an excellent Panzanella salad.
The bread must be stale, at least two or three days old, because fresh bread absorbs too much water. It must be of durum wheat and with natural leavening. Finally, dont’t use seasoned bread, for example bread with oil or milk. Use only bread made with water and wheat durum flour.
Panzanella Salad Tips and Variations
This recipe is the traditional and authentic version of Tuscan Panzanella salad. Fresh and light, made with few ingredients, it’s perfect for hot summer meals.
Obviously there are many ways to enrich your Panzanella salad and here you can find some variations that will make it even tastier!
For example, you can add fresh light cheese cut into small pieces such as Mozzarella.
You can also enrich your panzanella with more types of vegetables, like bell peppers for example. Pitted olives and capers go well too with Panzanella.
The variant with some anchovies in oil is also very good.
For a stronger but always fresh taste, we suggest to replace black pepper with 1 or 2 hot red chilli peppers, which you can remove or leave according to your taste.
Any additions you want to make to the traditional recipe, however, must not risk weighing too much this traditional dish that is born as a fresh summer salad!
Panzanella Salad, Italian Aperitivo
A nice idea for your summer parties with friends and family, is to serve Panzanella salad in nice and practical single-serving glasses.
Panzanella Salad: History and Curiosities
There are various versions of the origin of Panzanella. Some believe that the origin of this dish can be traced back to the Italian peasants’ habit of soaking dry bread, then dressing it with the vegetables available in the garden.
Others, however, think that Panzanella salad was born aboard fishing boats. It seems, in fact, that sailors used sea water to wet the stale bread and then consumed it together with some vegetables.
Despite its humble origins, over the centuries Panzanella recipe has enchanted poets, painters and leading figures of society. An example of this is given by a poem by Bronzino, a painter and poet of Florentine Mannerism at the Medici court in the 16th century, who expresses his love for Panzanella in a beautiful poem.
Even Boccaccio in a Tale of the Decameron describes a recipe that he calls “Pan Lavato” (that is “washed bread”) very similar to Panzanella.
The origin of the name “Panzanella” is also uncertain. According to some, it comes from the words “pane e zanella” (soup plate or tureen), for others from the name “panzana” which originally meant “something soft like a pudding”.