Panzanella is a simple Tuscan tomato & bread salad, a meal in and of itself, and a summer favourite in our household. It takes care of two issues at once: dried out sourdough bread and an oversupply of tomatoes in the garden.
The main ingredients used for the panzanella salad recipe are stale bread torn into pieces (or cut into cubes), ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil, vinegar, salt & pepper. That’s all. Although you can add other ingredients if you wish, and I’ll list optional ingredients for the salad below, panzanella is traditionally a simple affair, seen in the past as the food of the poor. I remember watching Jamie Oliver’s series from Italy when he makes panzanella and serves it to a local to taste. Jamie put a few other ingredients to jazz the salad up, but the verdict from the Italian was: way too complicated.
What is the best bread for panzanella salad?
The idea behind this recipe is to use up stale bread. Dried out sourdough that’s too tough to eat is perfect. It soaks up the vinegarette and tomato juices and becomes soft enough to be consumable again. Other crusty bread types like pane di casa or ciabatta, are good too.
On the other hand, fresh bread isn’t suitable for panzanella. Neither are soft types of yeasted bread or rolls. They soak up too much of the juices, become mushy and disintegrate. However, if you only have fresh and/or soft bread and absolutely want to make tomato salad, you need to toast the cut up or torn pieces first. Drizzling with olive oil before toasting is optional. Whereas stale sourdough is best mixed in with the tomato juices and vinegarette to soften, toasted bread cubes should be added last to preserve some of the crunchiness.
What kind of tomatoes to use?
For a panzanella salad full of flavour, vine-ripened, sun-kissed tomatoes are needed. Forget about red tennis balls called tomatoes from the supermarket. They are tasteless and have hardly any juices in them. If buying from the shops, get tomatoes on the vine. Cherry tomatoes can be used, too.
The best tomatoes are those freshly picked from your garden if you have one. I grow many heirloom tomatoes in different colours every summer: Mortgage Lifter, Ox Hearth, Black Russian, large yellow truss, and many other varieties. And lots of basil plants in between, of course.
What else can you add to this Italian salad?
As mentioned above, other ingredients can be added depending on what you like and have available on hand. Red onion and cucumber are two addition I include most often. Sometimes garlic too, infused in extra virgin olive oil. Here is the list:
- mozzarella cheese
- roasted capsicum
- red onion
- garlic clove
What to serve with panzanella salad?
For me, panzanella salad is a stand-alone hero. As long as there is tomato, bread, basil and salt in a dish- I don’t need anything else. If you are entertaining, however, think summer: grilled meats, BBQ, prawns perhaps. It’s a great tomato salad with extras when someone invites you to a BBQ. Always a winner, especially with vegetarians.
If you have any additional tips and suggestions for our panzanella salad recipe, please let us know in the comments below.
Panzanella Salad Recipe with Sourdough
- 650 g stale sourdough bread, cut or torn into pieces
- 7-8 large, ripe tomatoes
- 1 bunch fresh basil
- 1-2 cucumbers
- 1 red onion
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4-5 tbsp balsamic or red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- cut up the tomatoes and slice the onions if using
- place tomatoes and onions into a bowl
- combine vinaigrette ingredients, whisk briefly and pour over tomatoes
- leave for 15-20 minutes for tomatoes to let juices go
- add stale bread and mix to coat. Leave further 15-20 minutes for bread to soak up the juices, see note
- add basil and other ingredients if using (cucumber, anchovies etc.) and mix gently
- let the salad sit 10 more minutes for flavours to blend
- garnish panzanella with a few basil leaves and tomato slices if you wish