Panzanella is a simple, yet flavoursome Italian salad that can be put together in minutes. The stand out ingredient of this salad is the chunks of stale bread that have soaked up the beautiful flavours of the garlic vinaigrette, while still retaining some of their crunch. In it’s simplest form, Panzanella also uses fresh tomatoes, onion and basil. There are lots of variations of this salad, mine includes cucumber for extra crunch.
Combining the freshest of ingredients with an ingredient that’s stale, in this case bread, sounds wrong. But without the stale bread, it simply isn’t Panzanella. While dried out bread may not sound very appetising, once it’s moistened with a little water, then drizzled with the garlic vinaigrette and mixed with juices that have seeped from the tomatoes, it is absolutely divine.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT TYPE OF BREAD
The drier and more rustic your bread is, the better your Panzanella will be. White, spongey, fresh bread doesn’t even come close to making a good Panzanella. The bread will simply turn to mush once the liquid is added. A country style or Italian bread such as Ciabatta that holds its shape well is perfect! The chunks of bread will soak up the dressing while the crust will still remain slightly crunchy. If you don’t have stale bread on hand, place the chunks of bread on an oven tray and bake at 100 C / 210 F for 15 minutes or until they dry out.
MAKE IT YOUR OWN
Here are a few options that some cooks like to add to their Panzanella: hardboiled eggs, red capsicum / bell pepper, anchovy fillets or tuna. Finely diced celery, carrot and a few sprigs of mint can also be included.
If l had to choose a word that sounded very Italian, l think Panzanella would be the one.
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
- 3 thick slices of stale Italian bread (note 1)
- 5 medium sized ripe tomatoes cut into chunks (see photo)
- 1 small cucumber, diced
- I small red onion, diced
- a handful of fresh basil leaves
- 1 tsp grated garlic
- 1/3 cup olive oil plus extra for drizzling
- 2 tbsp white wine vinegar (or red wine vinegar if you prefer)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Cut or tear the bread into chunks.
- Place on a serving plate or large bowl and sprinkle with cold water. The bread needs to be moist but not saturated.
- Add the tomatoes, cucumbers and onion.
- Scatter the basil leaves over the top.
- Place the dressing ingredients in a small bowl or jar. Mix.
- Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well.
- Have a taste and adjust the seasoning if required.
- I like to add cracked pepper and an extra drizzle of olive oil over the salad.
- Serve and enjoy!
- It’s important to use a course or Italian style bread that’s crunchy on the outside and not too doughy on the inside. Regular bread will not do as it will disintegrate as it soaks up the liquid. If you don’t have left over bread on hand, an alternative is to place the chunks of bread on an oven tray and bake at 100 C / 210 F for 15 minutes or until they dry out. I mention this because you might find that it takes several days for the bread to become stale enough to use in the salad. This is probably due to the amount of preservatives used in baking.