Panzanella Bread Salad

From the recipe archive, first posted July 2010.

Oh the joys of summer! On the top of the list is fresh, ripe tomatoes, garden cucumbers, and basil that the more you cut, the more it grows. (Ever notice that basil is like a hydra? Cut one stem and two grow in its place.) And the tomatoes. Beefsteak tomatoes, early girls, heirlooms, plum tomatoes, not to mention the little ones like sun golds. Anyway, the heat has come, the garden has finally started to act like summer, and this classic Tuscan bread salad is a perfect thing to make with the bounty. Panzanella at its core is really a way to use up crusty bread that has gotten hard and to celebrate perfect summer tomatoes. It is a cooling summertime salad that relies on the bread as the “filler” to soak up the juices of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, as well as the olive oil you pour over everything.

Once a poor man’s dish, it has become rather trendy. Once you make it, you’ll see why. It’s a great way to show off wonderful, fresh, summer produce. Which is why you should only make it in the summer, and only use the best and freshest ingredients. With so few ingredients, all of them shine.

Panzanella Bread Salad Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 6-8.

As you cut the tomatoes, remove some of the seeds and liquid. Your panzanella will be juicy enough. Leave the crusts on the bread chunks; they will stay chewier and give the panzanella more substance.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups tomatoes, cut into large chunks
  • 4 cups day old (somewhat dry and hard) crusty bread (Italian or French loaf), cut into chunks the same size as the tomatoes*
  • 1 cucumber, skinned and seeded, cut into large chunks
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh basil, torn into little pieces
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

* If you don't have hard old bread sitting around, you can take fresh crusty bread, cut it into big cubes, lay the cubes out on a baking sheet, and put in a 300°F oven for 5-10 minutes, until the outer edges have dried out a bit (not toasted, just dried). If you use fresh bread without doing this, the bread may disintegrate into mush in the salad.

Method

Mix everything together and let marinate, covered, at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, up to 12 hours. Do not refrigerate or you will destroy the texture of the tomatoes.

Serve at room temperature.

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38 Comments

  1. Phoo-d

    This is such a beautiful salad! Last year I made an autumn panzanella with sweet potato, pumpkin seeds, and sage. It is definitely time for a big summer version. You are so right about the basil. My bushes keep coming back with a vengeance!

  2. Patrick

    We love Panzanella! I like to add a splash of red wine vinegar, which I think really ups the flavor of the whole dish. My wife doesn’t care for raw onions, so I usually substitute some green onion tops in its place. Great blog, keep it up!

  3. Dara

    Panzanella is one of my favorite summer salads. Even though it’s considered a peasant dish, it somehow feels so decadent and satisfying, particularly when using peak-of-the-season produce. I love to add sauteed wild mushrooms to my panzanella salads as well.

  4. Lulu

    Panzanella is one of my favorite things in the world! I make mine just like this, except I always add either olives or capers.

    Interestingly enough, I prefer this salad after several hours in the refrigerator. On a hot day, it’s delicious and refreshing.

  5. Traveling Culinary Artist

    Love this salad, and some of my favorite additions are chick peas, bell peppers, feta cheese, splash of red wine vinegar. Variations are boundless. The trick for me is to remember we’re only two and make a size that we can finish in one sitting!

  6. Aaron

    Would this be alright with a fresh lemon squeeze or would that upset the balance of the dish?

    I would try it and see if I liked it. ~Elise

  7. julie

    I love this dish! I add edamame beans to mine, which I find is a great touch.

  8. Joyce from the Central Valley

    Panzanella is a summer staple in our house. The recipe I have uses a can of anchovy filets, too, which add a depth of flavor that is quite delicious. My little chocolate peppers are just starting to come in, so I threw in a couple of those, too, thinly sliced. Yum!

  9. laura

    This looks wonderful! I often make a similar version with fresh mozzarella.

  10. Eva LaSway

    An excellent addition: Take the bread crumbs, drizzle them with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Mix them up, bake at 400 for about 5-10 min til golden. You can actually do a bunch and keep in a container for a week so you’re not turning on the oven too much during the summer.
    They add an excellent flavor to this wonderful salad!

  11. anny

    I toast day old italian rolls, rub on raw garlic, and cut the bread crouton size and throw it into the salad and I too add red wine vinegar. Tomatoes make summer bearable.

  12. Josie

    I’m curious to see if this could work with gluten free bread slightly toasted in the oven with just a dab of olive oil… It looks delicious!

  13. Teresa

    I love panzanella, and wait patiently (not really) for my tomatoes to ripen to make it. I usually add an acidic element, usually in the form of champagne vinegar. Yum!

  14. katie c

    Needs vinegar too. I use sherry wine vinegar tho balsamic might add a nice sweet element.

    Actually, there should be enough acid in the tomatoes so that you don’t need vinegar. But if not, then of course, vinegar or lemon juice will do the trick. ~Elise

  15. Carrie

    What a timely post! The salad was delicious and simple to cut down to feed two.

  16. Jessie

    Once again another delish dish! Made it for dinner on a hot Pasadena night, just added a little red wine vinegar. Thanks for the perfect no-cook summer meal!

  17. Fuji Nana

    I made this over the weekend when Fuji Mama and family came for dinner. She recognized it right away from this site. It was delicious! I love the idea of salad + bread being one. It definitely simplifies things. I will be making this again and again.

  18. Joanna

    Hi Elise, this does look delicious, and makes me very jealous that I don’t have a garden of my own with fresh tomatoes!

    If you’re interested, I caught an episode of Good Eats a few days ago focused on tomatoes, and Alton Brown turned a BLT into a panzanella. (Rightly called “TBL” because of course the tomatoes are the most important.) I haven’t made it yet, but I’ve been having dreams about this idea! The recipe is here:
    http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/tbl-panzanella-recipe/
    if you want to give it a shot!

  19. Julia L.

    Hi Elise! Delicious and easy, as ALWAYS. Thanks!

  20. Ed

    Looks great. Just out of curiosity…in the picture it’s looks like there’s yellow tomatoes and..is it prosciutto?

    That would be yellow tomatoes, and some very dark red tomatoes. ~Elise

  21. Kassandra

    Just made this. LOVED it! Added mozzerella and baby arugula. Yummy! Thanks for all the great ideas.

  22. Kristin

    Elise… delicious, simple, and beautiful! It got rave reviews at our weekend picnic. I have made many things from your blog in the last few years, and I must say that this is going on a permanent favorites list! If I didn’t already love tomatoes, the photo alone would make me try this salad.

  23. CliveLitchfield

    My Italian neighbours in Tuscany use stale bread which is grated then steeped in just enough olive oil to soak into the bread, (any extra oil can be squeezed out) to give the bread the consistency of couscous, they then add any and all available in season salads and raw vegetables cut up really small, add capers, olives, salt and pepper, mix it all together and put into individual small dishes for a starter or into one large bowl for people to help themselves to as a side salad. Dress with vinegar or lemon juice to taste.

  24. DigitalSignalX

    What a great recipe! We use a similar arrangement every time there is left-over corn bread too, it adds a delicious crumbly sweetness to the mix.

  25. Marie @ Little Kitchie

    Panzanella defines summer to me! Love it!

  26. Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar

    This sounds like such a delight!!

  27. Kate

    I lived in Sicily for 3 years and ate this salad all the time. One of my favorites! In Sicily they add orange segments to it.

    • Sandy S.

      Kate, thank you for reminding me that oranges and tomatoes can really taste wonderful together! A few yeas ago I was served a shrimp scampi garnished with tomatoes and oranges, that was scrumptious! I went on a binge of that combination but had since forgotten it. You have brought it to light, again. Thank You!

  28. Cookin Canuck

    Sitting on the back patio, with a glass of red wine and a bowl full of a panzanella salad epitomizes summertime to me. I need to start picking our backyard tomatoes and make this for my family.

  29. Bob Y

    This is my favorite summer salad. To make it even more delicious, I fry the bread chunks in olive oil. Not only does it add great flavor and and crunch; as the bread sits in the dressing it begins to very slowly dissolve, thickening the sometime watery sauce. I also sprinkle the tomato chunks with a bit of salt and let them drain for 1/2 hour or so, which gets rid of excess moisture and intensifies the flavor of the tomatos. Sounds so good, think I’ll make it tonight for dinner :).

  30. plasticmind

    This looks so fresh and delicious!

  31. Kristen

    Made this last night with an olive loaf, delish!

  32. Elena

    Had this dish with a fried egg on top at a restaurant in Petoskey, Michigan and it was the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten. Thought you’d like to hear about that spin on the recipe. Thanks, Elise.

  33. FoodandFrets

    I soak the red onion in water for a few minutes to mellow them slightly. I also add red wine vinegar and bake the bread drizzled in olive oil and sea salt to crisp up. Thanks to Florence Knight and her wonderful book ‘One – A cook and her cupboard’ for these tips!

  34. Karenaperville

    I made this today and it was delicious! Good tomatoes and bakery bread are a MUST for the great taste that this recipe will provide. We had this along side fish and that was all that was needed. We loved how the flavors all shined through, complimenting each beautifully! I personally wouldn’t change a thing!

    One question for Elise: You end the recipe with the caveat regarding refrigerating the salad after making it since it’s a “no-no” for fresh tomatoes in terms of texture and taste…. but after eating it, leftovers should be refrigerated overnight for next day use, correct?

    • Elise

      Depends on how long you want to store it. There’s no meat or dairy in it, it will be fine at room temp for several hours. All of the components are fine at room temp (just covered). So, it depends on how long you want to store it. I do think refrigerating garden fresh tomatoes hurts their taste and texture. Of course if you are using tomatoes that have already been chilled, then the damage is done, so it doesn’t matter. And some hot house tomatoes that I’ve had don’t have great flavor to begin with. But good garden tomatoes? I wouldn’t refrigerate if I could avoid it.

  35. Steve Hoge

    We made a panzanella this evening with 4 kinds of our homegrown tomatoes and added half-rounds of mozzarella and crispy pancetta along with the briefly seared peppers and onion threads. Oh, almost forgot the chunks of perfectly ripe avocado. Deliciious!

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