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. According to Hank who made this salad for us the other day, 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
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.
- 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.
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.
Yield: Serves 6-8.