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.
What Is Panzanella Salad?
Panzanella 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 extra virgin olive oil you pour over everything.
Once a poor man's dish, panzanella 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, you'll want all of them shine.
The Perfect Make-Ahead Salad
Panzanella is best when it has been allowed to sit for a while (at least 30 minutes) before serving. This gives the bread plenty of time to soak up the juices from the tomatoes and for the flavors in the salad to meld.
You can prepare the salad a couple hours ahead of time, keeping it at room temperature, which makes panzanella an excellent make-ahead salad for outdoor picnics and potlucks.
If you need to make further ahead, refrigerate and let come to room temperature before serving.
What to Serve With Panzanella
Serve panzanella salad as a side dish with your summer favorites — grilled chicken, grilled fish or shrimp, and grilled steak. For a vegetarian version with a little more protein, try folding in some chickpeas, or topping the salad with chopped hard boiled eggs right before serving.
Suggestions and Additions
Here are a few variations on panzanella that you might like to try:
- Add cubes of mozzarella cheese
- Sprinkle with red wine vinegar
- Fold in shredded chicken
- Fold in sliced prosciutto or small chunks of salami
- Add other vegetables such as chopped avocados, bell pepper, or fresh corn kernels
- Top with a fried or poached egg
Note if you add meat, eggs, or cheese to this salad, store chilled if making ahead, and bring to room temp to serve.
Try These Other Summer Salads
- Caprese Salad with Tomatoes, Basil, and Mozzarella
- Fattoush Bread Salad
- Greek Pasta Salad
- Pasta Salad with Corn, Bacon, and Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
- Tomato, Onion, and Avocado Salad
Panzanella Bread Salad
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.
If you don't have stale 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.
- 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 (see Recipe Note)
- 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 high quality extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Mix everything together and let marinate, covered, at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
If refrigerating, let come to room temperature before serving.