A simple rustic summer dish, perfect for a light lunch or picnics.
Panzanella is not only a popular summer dish in Florence, but throughout central Italy. Over the next couple of days (in mid-August), Lamoli, and Onelli small towns in Italy, will celebrate the Sagra della panzanella! In Monterotondo, Lazio it is held on the first Sunday of July.
The simplicity of this dish is typical of Tuscan style cooking. It was usual in country-style cooking, to moisten old, dry bread and mix with seasonal vegetables. This easy summer salad, requires no cooking and is made from the simplest of ingredients: stale bread, fresh tomatoes, cucumber, red onions, basil and dressing.
Stale Tuscan bread is ideal for this dish as it holds its shape well and doesn’t become soggy and mushy when wet. However, outside of Italy it is almost impossible to find, unless you make your own. I use slices of Poilane country loaf and moisten the bread very slightly.
Remove any sharp flavour from the onions by soaking them in water and vinegar, so they become sweet.
Then salt the tomatoes and leave to rest for a while so the liquid drains out – this flavours the dressing nicely.
Mix everything together and chill for an hour so the flavours come together. Remove and bring to room temperature before serving.
Panzanella can be enjoyed as a main dish or as a side.
- 2 slices of stale Tuscan bread eg. a dry country loaf
- 4 large tomatoes, cut into cubes
- 1/2 cucumber, thinly sliced
- 1 small red onion, finely sliced
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 10-15 basil leaves
- 10 capers
- 4-6 tablespoons olive oil, as required
- salt and pepper, to taste
Soak the sliced onion in a bowl with water mixed with 1 tablespoon vinegar, and set aside for 1 hour.
Salt the tomatoes and set aside for 30 minutes.
Cut the bread slices into small cubes, arrange flat in a dish, and moisten with water. Set aside till softened (around 10 minutes).
In a serving dish, add the bread and pour in the tomatoes with their liquid. Drain the onions and add to the dish, along with cucumbers and capers. Tear the basil leaves and sprinkle on top. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar, and season with salt and pepper, then combine well. Chill in the fridge for an hour, and bring to room temperature before serving.
Store in the fridge and consume within 2 days.
To this classic panzanella recipe, you could add celery, tuna, anchovies, lettuce, and hard boiled eggs, for variety.
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