Panzanella is one of those dishes that simply screams summer. It is at its best when tomatoes are in season, and, especially, fresh from your own garden.
Panzanella (literally meaning “bread in a small basket) is a Tuscan recipe that, before the 20th Century, was based on onions, bread, olive oil, and basil. It wasn’t until the 20th Century that tomatoes were added; no doubt out of desperation and poverty.
The earliest known description of Panzanella is by the painter Angolo di Cosimo (“Bronzino”; 1503 – 1572). He sings the praises of onions with oil and vinegar served with toast and, a page later, speaks of a salad of onions, purslane, and cucumbers.
The best things about this recipe? It’s easy, fast, and there’s no cooking involved. More reasons it’s perfect for summer.
(some information from wikipedia.org)
A few notes:
1. This should go without saying, but use the best ingredients you can find and/or afford. Panzanella traditionally has few ingredients, so they all need to shine. There’s no way to mask indifferent ingredients in this recipe.
2. Use at least day-old bread. If your bread is too fresh, it will become gummy. Also, use a good European-style crusty bread. Most American-style breads don’t have the hard crust needed.
3. Some Panzanella recipes soak the bread in water and then squeeze it out before using. Others will have the bread soak in olive oil. I use the latter method. I prefer some bite to my bread; I find the water method makes the bread too soggy for my taste. However, if the bread you are using is very hard, then the water method may be the way to go. Be sure to slice the bread into thick slices and soak for about 20 minutes. Squeeze out the water before cutting or tearing the bread. (Perhaps even do half-and-half water and tomato juice.)
4. The traditional Tuscan recipe has tomatoes, onions, basil, bread, olive oil, salt & pepper. However, other recipes may include: cucumbers, lettuce, olives, fresh mozzarella, celery, carrots, parsley, chopped eggs, tuna, anchovies, bell peppers, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, anchovies, and garlic. A Tuscan would frown upon these additions; however, feel free to add them if you like. (I do use garlic. Sometimes red wine vinegar.)
5. This salad is really best the day it’s made. You can eat it the next day (just let it come to room temperature after you take it out of the fridge), but the bread will be soggy. Unless that’s what you prefer.
1 med. loaf day-old (at least) crusty bread, torn or cut into bite-sized pieces
6 large tomatoes (approximately 2 lbs.), roughly chopped (don’t seed the tomatoes; you want the juice)
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil, more if needed
1 bu. basil, chopped or torn
2 cl. garlic, minced
1/2 of a medium red onion, very thinly sliced
Salt & Pepper to taste
1. Mix together the bread, tomatoes, and olive oil. Mix thoroughly and let sit for at least 20 minutes or up to 1 hour at room temperature.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and combine thoroughly. Taste for seasoning and saturation of the bread. Adjust as needed. Serve immediately.
Typically, this is served alone. However, it will go well with just about any protein – especially grilled meat.