Panzanella is a classic Italian summer dish, originally born in the region of Tuscany. On a hot day, there’s nothing better to eat than a fresh salad prepared with good quality ingredients from the Mediterranean cuisine.
The panzanella recipe was born out of difficult times when food and money were scarce, and people couldn’t afford to let bread (or any other food) go to waste. I wish we had more of that care and respect for food today and avoid food waste as well as our parents and grandparents taught us to.
The British tomato season runs from June to October, so now it’s the time to make the most of it by eating tomatoes with the best, sweetest flavours.
Old, stale bread can be saved to make breadcrumbs (why buy them from a supermarket, when you can so easily make them at home?). Another great way to use old bread that is dry and hard is to make a Panzanella salad.
The traditional Panzanella is vegetarian and vegan. It is made with tomatoes, days’ old crusty bread cut in chunks, sliced red onions (the best kind are sweet Tropea onions), cucumber and fresh basil. Use good quality extra virgin olive oil from Italy and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Like any other fresh salad, the panzanella is best eaten after it’s mixed and seasoned with olive oil, but you could also store it in the fridge for up to 24 hours (in an airtight container) and eat it the next day.
I made a big portion of panzanella last week and I loved it so much I ate it for both lunch and dinner. It’s an ideal lunch dish: quick and easy to make, refreshing and packed full of flavours. Take it to office, the park or the beach for a delicious summer meal!
You can add fresh cheese, such as mozzarella, burrata, feta or ricotta to turn this side dish into a main course.
- 300g juicy, ripe tomatoes, cut in chunks
- 200g crusty bread (a few days old, the bread should not be too soft)
- 1 small cucumber, peeled and chopped
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 3-4 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 5-10 leaves of fresh basil
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- Optional: 250g fresh mozzarella, diced
Start by soaking the onion in a small bowl with cold water for about 30 minutes. This will remove the strong acidic taste of the onions.
Slice the bread into chunks pieces, put it in a large bowl and soak it with water for a few minutes. The time will vary, depending on how old and hard the bread is. It should be soft enough to squeeze it in your hands to remove the water, while remaining intact. Squeeze the bread very well and set aside.
In a large salad bowl, mix together the tomatoes, cucumber, onion and bread. Add the basil leaves (you can break them in pieces with your hands). Season the salad with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Option to sprinkle with dried oregano, if you like the taste.
Prepare 30 minutes before serving to allow for the ingredients to mix well and the bread to soak in the juice and oil. Serve at room temperature.