Panzanella – a salad with bread and tomatoes – is a very popular rustic summer dish in Italy, especially in Tuscany and other parts of central Italy. It doesn’t require any cooking and is therefore ideal for hot and humid summer days. Originally, it was a dish for peasants who worked on the fields all day. The basic ingredients are soaked stale bread, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, basil, salt and pepper, vinegar and oil. More modern interpretations might include lettuce, mozzarella, anchovies, celery, carrots, or tuna, but don’t offer these variations to the puritans who will most certainly disapprove! The first written reference to panzanella was already made in the 16th century when poet and artist Bronzino wrote about the incredulous taste of toast with onions, oil and vinegar. Tomatoes were only added to this recipe in the 20th century.
300 gr/ 10 oz stale Italian bread
1-2 red onions, thinly sliced
4-6 tomatoes, in chunks
1 cucumber, in chunks
fresh basil leaves, shredded
2-3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Remove the crusts, and cut the bread into slices. Soak in cold water for 15-20 minutes. Once heavy with water, remove a little bread at a time and squeeze out excess water with your hands. Then break the slices apart into small, dry crumbs.
Place the bread crumbs in a salad bowl and add the red onion, tomato and cucumber chunks together with the shredded basil leaves. For the authentic feel, peel the cucumber first. Dress with a bit of oil, salt and pepper, and let the salad cool in the fridge for 30 minutes.
When it is time to serve, add a splash of balsamic vinegar and oil.