Panzanella: Italian Bread & Tomato Salad
Ripe summer tomatoes, cucumber, and basil shine in this Tuscan panzanella salad recipe. Italian tomato and bread salad is a great way to use up stale bread.
There are many things I love about Tuscan food and cooking. Simple, high quality ingredients are the star, and there is very little waste. Panzanella is a perfect example. Tuscan bread is typically quite flavorless and dry, and after the first day, many people would simply toss it out, but in recipes like traditional tomato bruschetta, ribollita, pappa al pomodoro, and panzanella, it can be brought back to life.
I started working on this recipe a year ago in Tuscany, and am happy to finally be sharing it. Let’s take a look at how panzanella is traditionally made in Tuscany, and how I like to make it at home.
What is Panzanella?
Panzanella is a typical Tuscan salad made with stale bread, tomatoes, onions, and basil. It’s soaked in a simple oil and vinegar dressing. This is a picture of traditional authentic Tuscan panzanella I snapped in a caffe in Radda in Chianti, Tuscany. As you can see, this salad is mostly crumbled soaked bread, with some chopped tomatoes, onions, and basil mixed in.
My family prefers panzanella made with larger chunks of toasted bread, like croutons, while the panzanella I encountered in Tuscany was very soft, as the bread was soaked in water. I also like to add cucumbers, capers or olives, and lots of herbs. The choice is yours whether you’d like to go the traditional route or mine.
How to Make Panzanella
While I picked up all the ingredients for panzanella at the farmers market in Tuscany, you can find them at any grocery store. You’ll want to use a rustic bread, not sliced sandwich bread. I like sourdough, ciabatta, or baguette best, if you can’t find Tuscan pane.
Cut the bread up into 1-inch cubes, then either toast in in a pan on the stove with some olive oil and a pinch of salt or bake in the oven until golden. I’ve found most American recipes, like one in Ina Garten’s cookbook, prepare the bread this way, while the recipes I found in Italy soaked the bread in water.
The key to really delicious panzanella is using the best ripe juicy summer tomatoes you can find. I like to use a combination of red and yellow tomatoes and lots of fresh basil. Onions and either olives or capers add tons of flavor.
Like most Italian salads, this one is dressed with a light olive oil and red wine (or champagne) vinaigrette. A little Dijon mustard helps emulsify and add flavor to the dressing.
Legumes like lentils, white beans, and chickpeas are very common throughout Tuscany, and I love adding chickpeas to this recipe for extra protein. Fresh mozzarella and avocado are also fantastic. Toss in some leafy greens like baby arugula or chopped spinach just before serving if you’d like.
Panzanella can be made up to 4 hours in advance and refrigerated.
What to Serve with Panzanella
- Start with an Aperol Spritz as an aperitivo.
- Baked Eggplant Parmesan (vegan).
- Grilled Veggies/Protein.
- Four a Soup/Salad combo try our Italian Veggie Soup, Instant Pot Lentil Soup, or Fresh Tomato Soup.
- Finish with an Affogato for dessert.
- 3-4 cups 1-inch cubed stale bread (Tuscan pane, sourdough, ciabatta, or baguette)
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 lb. tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces (I like red and yellow heirloom tomatoes)
- 1 hothouse cucumber, sliced crosswise
- 1/2 red or white onion, thinly sliced
- 1/3 cup drained capers
- 1 cup basil leaves, sliced or torn
- 2 tablespoons red wine or champagne vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 oz. arugula (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place cubed bread on a sheet pan and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Season with a pinch of salt. Bake until toasty and golden, about 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- In a large salad bowl, add the tomatoes, cucumber, sliced onion, olives, and basil. Add the bread once it's cool.
- In a small bowl or jar, whisk together the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar, mustard, and garlic. Season to taste with about 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.
- Toss the salad with the dressing and refrigerate for 1/2 hour to 4 hours before serving. Toss in the arugula, if using just before serving. Season to taste with any additional salt and pepper.
I love to add 1 1/2 cups cooked and drained chickpeas and/or an avocado to this salad.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 202Total Fat: 15gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 473mgCarbohydrates: 16gFiber: 3gSugar: 4gProtein: 3g
Nutrition information is automatically calculated by Nutritionix. I am not a nutritionist and cannot guarantee accuracy. If your health depends on nutrition information, please calculate again with your favorite calculator.