Panzanella: Tomato, Bread and Basil Salad recipe (2024)


Panzanella: Tomato, Bread and Basil Salad recipe (1)

Tomatoes didn’t originally come from Italy, but they’ve certainly made up for lost time. Now it’s hard to think of Italian cuisine without them, from classic dishes, from Pasta all’Arrabiata and Salade Caprese, to Pizza Margherita and Panzanella, a bread and tomato salad that’s one of my favorite things to make, and eat.

This summer salad gets tossed with basil, which boosts its appeal (at least in my book…), as my summer trilogy has traditionally been tomatoes, basil, and fresh corn. But since fresh corn isn’t widely available here, I have to make do with something that is: Bread. And that’s fine by me.

Panzanella: Tomato, Bread and Basil Salad recipe (2)

Many, um, interpretations of Panzanella exist, often with toasted bread cubes, which are sometimes tossed in olive oil and garlic before toasting. I like that too. I mean, what’s not to like about tomatoes and toasted bread, with olive oil and garlic? But Panzanella is meant to be made with stale bread that’s crumbled or torn.

There’s no shortage of leftover bread in France (and for people who say, “What’s leftover bread?” I applaud you for being able to eat an entire loaf of bread in one go – although some bread is so good, I agree that it’s hard to stop) as it’s a ritual to get fresh bread daily. I, too, like any excuse to visit a boulangerie, so it’s great to have a way to use up the pain d’hier.

Panzanella: Tomato, Bread and Basil Salad recipe (3)

Panzanella: Tomato, Bread and Basil Salad recipe (4)

Proof that just because you’re from a country means you follow the rules, some Italian websites veer from tradition and list Dijon mustard as an ingredient in Panzanella. And esteemed cooking teacher and author, Marcella Hazan, used anchovies, garlic, and capers in her Panzanella. And pedants may want to avert your eyes here, but I’ve even read some Italian recipes that say you can “enrich” the salad with shrimp, olives, tuna, beans, or hard-cooked eggs.

Panzanella: Tomato, Bread and Basil Salad recipe (5)

One rule that’s hard to follow is that unsalted bread is supposed to be used in Panzanella. I don’t buy unsalted bread – and to be honest, I don’t know even know where to find it – so I use regular levain (sourdough bread.) Like the tomatoes, the quality is the bread is surprisingly important, as is the olive oil and vinegar. As my Italian-based friends say, “Olive oil isn’t just to keep things from sticking to the pan, it’s a flavor.” So give yourself permission to keep a good bottle on hand for drizzling and using on salads.

Panzanella: Tomato, Bread and Basil Salad recipe (6)

Panzanella: Tomato, Bread and Basil Salad recipe (7)

And spring for good vinegar, too. Marcella Hazan used to get bonkers about that. And I agree. Good vinegar is just a few bucks more than the bottle-shelf stuff, and it makes a world of difference in your salads. Since it’s used by the spoonful, good vinegar is one of the world’s great bargains.

Panzanella: Tomato, Bread and Basil Salad recipe (8)

Ideally, you want to make this salad when tomatoes are at their peak. If only “okay” tomatoes are available, you can put the cut pieces in a colander, sprinkle them with a little salt, and let them stand for 15 to 20 minutes, which’ll improve their flavor. When I made this, my Parisian guests politely pushed the raw onions to the sides of their plate, but otherwise, everyone really loved this Panzanella. I was expecting to have leftovers the next day, but that didn’t happen.

Panzanella: Tomato, Bread and Basil Salad recipe (9)


Panzanella: Bread and Tomato Salad

If your tomatoes are not exceptional, you can toss them in a little salt and drain them in a colander for 15 to 20 minutes before using. Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan also adds anchovies and capers to Panzanella. Although not traditional, they are worthwhile additions and I sometimes sneak them in, too. If you want to add them, use 1 tablespoon of capers, rinsed, drained and minced, and 3 to 4 anchovy filets, minced, to the dressing in step #3.

Servings 4 servings

  • 3-4 slices (4 ounces, 115g) hearty, country-style bread, (stale)
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, plus extra for soaking the bread and onions
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 6 tablespoons best-quality olive oil
  • 3 medium tomatoes, (1 3/4 pounds, 800g), diced
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, halved, and seeds scraped away, diced
  • handful fresh basil leaves, about 15 to 20, torn into pieces
  • Soak the bread in cold water with a splash of vinegar in it, until soft. (Depending on the bread, it can take between 2 and 10 minutes.) Remove the bread slices and squeeze them very dry with your hands. Set aside.

  • Add the onions to the cold water with another splash of vinegar, and let stand for 1 hour. Place the cucumbers in a mesh strainer and sprinkle with a little salt. Let drain for 20 minutes. (Or longer.)

  • In a large bowl, mix together the vinegar, garlic, and salt, stirring until the salt is dissolved. Stir in the olive oil.

  • Add the tomatoes to the bowl with the dressing. Tear the bread into bite-size pieces into the bowl. Drain the onions and add them to the bowl along with the cucumbers. Mix well and let stand at least 15 minutes. Add the basil leaves and mix again. Taste, and add additional salt and vinegar, if desired.


Note: Panzanella can be served soon after it's made but it's also fine to keep it at room temperature for several hours, making it a perfect do-ahead dish.

Panzanella: Tomato, Bread and Basil Salad recipe (2024)


What ingredients are in a panzanella salad? ›

In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, basil, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Serve, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend.

What does panzanella mean in english? ›

Meaning of panzanella in English

an Italian salad made with stale (= not fresh) bread in oil and tomatoes, and often other vegetables: Stale bread can be used in panzanella, a Tuscan bread salad.

What do you serve with panzanella? ›

It's also a great starter to a fun Italian menu with anything including sundried tomato pasta, eggplant parmesan, chicken pesto, or Fish of your choice. Panzanella can also be the perfect summer salad for your next BBQ with things like chicken kabobs, lamb burgers, or grilled shrimp.

What is the origin of panzanella salad? ›

Panzanella originated in the central Italian countryside, where farmers combined surplus vegetables with old bread to cut down on waste. They soaked the bread in cold water to give it a chewy texture, then tossed it with vinegar, herbs, and onions for a wonderfully tangy bite.

What are the best tomatoes for salads? ›

Cherry tomatoes are small, round tomatoes that are perfect for snacking and salads. As their namesake suggests, they are about the same size and shape as a cherry. Most cherry tomatoes are red, but they do come in other colors like yellow and orange.

What part of Italy is panzanella from? ›

Panzanella comes from the regions of central Italy: Toscana, Lazio, Umbria, Marche and Abruzzo, but the Tuscan one is perhaps the most famous. At its most basic, it is a mix of old, dry bread, soaked, squeezed and crumbled, tomatoes, red onions and basil, dressed with oil and vinegar and eaten slightly chilled.

What does panzanella taste like? ›

Earthy beets, vibrant orange, and fresh herbs like dill, parsley, tarragon, and mint add depth to the entire dish. Food and Wine's roundup of eighteen amazing Italian salads including a panzanella recipe is a great place to start. The options are endless and will leave your mouth watering.

Why is it called panzanella? ›

The name is believed to be a portmanteau of "pane", Italian for 'bread', and "zanella", a deep plate in which it is served.

What can I do with stale bread? ›

There are many ways to use stale bread in recipes, including French onion soup or grinding stale bread into savory breadcrumbs for venison meatballs or stuffed bell peppers. Satisfy a sweet tooth with French toast with apples and pecan or a dessert like bread pudding and Apple Brown Betty.

Do you eat bread with salad? ›

Salad on its own isn't easily filling and is quickly digested. Its normally served with bread as bread is cheap(much cheaper than salad ingredients in some places) and also filling and is also digested more slowly than salad so if you eat it with salad you will not be hungry a few minutes later.

What is the bread you eat with pasta? ›

The type of bread served with antipasti can vary depending on the region, but some popular options include crusty white bread, focaccia, or ciabatta. Additionally, bread can be used to mop up any remaining sauce from the pasta dish.

How do you eat garlic bread loaf? ›

Get a loaf of your favorite bread and cut it in half lengthwise. Mince as much garlic as you like and stir it into the softened butter, along with grated parmesan cheese. Season the butter with salt and pepper and smear it heavily onto the cut sides of the bread.

What was the first salad called? ›

Back in the 18th century, the first-ever chef's salad was gaining popularity. It was common to use whatever ingredients you had in your kitchen to create them. The chef's salad of the day was then called “salmagundi” and they typically included some kind of meat.

What was the world's first salad? ›

Salads have a surprisingly ancient history, with roots tracing back thousands of years. The ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans were known to consume mixed greens with a combination of salt, oil and vinegar.

When was panzanella invented? ›

It is believed that panzanella was invented out of necessity, as a means to utilize unwanted ingredients, such as stale bread. The salad was first described in the 1500s, in a poem by a famous artist and poet named Bronzino. The name of the dish comes from two words: pane, meaning bread, and zanella, meaning soup bowl.

What does a typical salad contain? ›

Most leafy vegetables that can be eaten raw are used: all varieties of lettuce, garden cress and watercress, endives, cabbage, spinach, escarole, romaine (cos), arugula, and fresh herbs. Other vegetables, raw or cooked—tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, peppers, beets, and so on—may garnish the green salad.

What is a common ingredient in most bound salads? ›

Bound Salads

The reason they are a less-healthy option is that the binding agents are typically mayonnaise-based. Some of the most popular bound salads are egg and tuna. Most egg salad recipes are similar, which means that you can tweak the ingredients to your liking.

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