This Tuscan bread and tomato salad is exactly why summer was invented. It brings together the lovely veg that’s simultaneously in season; a harmony of ingredients and flavor. Historically, this dish spanned all classes of 16th century Italy. Though namely a peasant dish — it was a way to use up stale bread, which back then was only baked once a week — it was also adored by nobility. Poets even wrote about it. The stale bread was soaked in water and vinegar to soften then tossed with whatever vegetables came out of the garden, most commonly onions and cucumbers. Tomatoes weren’t introduced to the salad until the 1800’s.
Today, there are many variations of panzanella. This version utilizes much of what’s available in mid- to late-summer: cucumbers, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, and basil. The bread is cubed and sautéed in olive oil and salt. This gives the bread a wonderful crisp texture and allows the vinaigrette and juices of the vegetables to soak in without making it immediately soggy. I add a mix of green and kalamata olives for a briny bite and fresh mozzarella for a soft milky contrast. The vinaigrette is simple; just garlic, dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, olive oil and salt & pepper. If you have a good olive oil you’ve been saving, this is the time to use it!
Someday I will journey to Tuscany just to eat this salad. Until then, buon appetito!
Place the vegetables, olives, basil and mozzarella in a large bowl.
Add the crunchy sourdough bread cubes to the vegetables.
Pour the garlicky vinaigrette on top.
Toss to combine, then stare at that gorgeous salad you just made. The licoricey basil aroma will fill the air.
The colors are full of summer…
…and the flavor is dreamy.
1/2 small loaf sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 5 cups)
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 large ripe tomatoes (or several smaller ones), cut into 1-inch cubes
2 small cucumbers, cut in half lengthwise, seeded, then sliced (don’t need to peel)
1 small red onion, cut in half and sliced thin
2 red, yellow, orange or purple bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup chopped kalamata and green olives
large handful of basil leaves, shredded or torn
6 ounces ciliegine or bocconcini (fresh mozzarella balls), halved or quartered ( leave out if vegan)
Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the bread and salt and cook until crisp and browned, stirring frequently; about 8 – 10 minutes. Scoop out onto a plate to cool.
Meanwhile, add all the vinaigrette ingredients (see below) to a jar or container and whisk until well combined, or put the lid of your jar on and shake vigorously.
To a large bowl, add the tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, peppers, olives, basil and mozzarella if using. Add the bread on top then pour the vinaigrette over everything. Toss well to combine. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Let sit for 20 – 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Enjoy!
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper