To me, summer always calls for lazy afternoons in the garden, where we gather family and friends and eat alfresco. Think Tuscan Panzanella salad served with a side of refreshing Italian cocktail and good laughter. The original Tuscan Panzanella salad is the taste of summer in a bowl. The freshness of the tomatoes meets the joyful and mild taste of the olive oil, which in turns softens even the hardest of crouton. The acid from the vinegar and lemon juice marries the sweet tomatoes, creating this wonderful simple, yet tasty summer salad. Panzanella is not just about enjoying ripe tomatoes, but a way to save old bread, which can be drizzled with olive oil and baked, before soaked in all-natural tomato and olive oil dressing.
What is Tuscan Panzanella Salad?
The history of Panzanella salad is believed to have started somewhere around the 16th century when artist Bronzino sings about a salad created with tomatoes and onions which now are believed to be the staple ingredients of Panzanella.
Originally, Panzanella salad was actually created mainly with onions and not tomatoes like today. Modern panzanella salad is made from stale bread soaked in tomato juice and olive oil. The salad contains onions, tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Cucumbers are often added and it's usually topped with fresh Italian herbs like basil or oregano.
How to make classic Tuscan Panzanella Salad
I know there are many versions of Panzanella and since I love Italian food, I respect them all. You might find capers, olives and garlic as well as cucumbers, peppers and even olives. To me, Panzanella tastes like summer and it's the perfect salad to save dried bread. You might recall from this post about saving pita bread that I rarely throw away leftovers and try to turn them into something exciting.
The first Panzanella salad I ever had was during my visit to Italy some 6 years ago. It was a humble version with the juiciest, sweetest tomatoes I've ever tasted, dried homemade bread, extra virgin olive oil, red onions and a touch of vinegar. No fresh herbs, just salt and pepper. I loved it. It wasn't just its simplicity that got to me, but the marriage of all these ingredients created the real taste of Tuscan summer in a bowl. I was hooked. Since I learnt how to make Italian pizza and Italian grissini and I continue to experiment with different Italian ingredients to perfect my skills.
So my Tuscan Panzanella salad here is a homage to the original, classical Panzanella ever tasted.
You will need roughly 8 cups (1.5 kg) of chopped tomatoes. Pick the juiciest tomatoes you can find. You can also make it with super juicy cherry tomatoes. You will need 3/4 cups (160ml) olive oil plus a little extra to drizzle. 3/4 pounds (350 g) of dried bread. I made our version of an easy homemade bread recipe and left it to dry for a couple of days. Have 1 red onion, chopped, 2 tsp vinegar and 2 tsp lemon juice. Salt and freshly ground peppercorn. You can decorate with fresh Italian herbs if you desire.
What's important: good quality olive oil and good quality tomatoes. If you happen to have lemon-infused vinegar, you can just use 2 tbsp of that instead of 2 tsp of vinegar and 2 tsp of lemon juice.
You will first need to bake the bread, so preheat the oven to 400F/200C and cut the bread into small little cubes. Drizzle some olive oil and bake for about 10 minutes until crisp and golden. Make sure the bread does not brown or the Panzanella salad will not taste very nice.
In the meantime, place the chopped juicy tomatoes in a colander over a large bowl. Season with sea salt and using a spoon, mix well to coat the tomatoes in salt. Keep on mixing gently. Set aside for about 10 minutes and mix occasionally. The idea is to "aid" the juice from the tomatoes to drain into the bowl. I know it's tempting to just dig some bread in that tomato water but stick with me here.
Mix the tomatoes in the colander once last time. Remove the colander and set aside. While whisking, drizzle the 3/4 cups of olive oil over the tomato juice. Now add the chopped red onion, the vinegar and lemon juice. Add the tomatoes and the crisp croutons. Mix well and season with salt and freshly squeezed peppercorn. Decorate with fresh Italian herbs of your choice (usually basil or oregano).
That's it, your Panzanella salad is ready to be enjoyed. I know I'm addicted to it. I hope you liked this traditional Italian recipe. If you tried it, don't forget to tag us on social media and to leave a comment in the section below.
This recipe has been developed entirely by Yuzu Bakes. Any resemblance with other recipes is purely coincidental.