Panzanella - An Italian bread and tomato salad
The very first time I had Panzanella, I wasn't is Italy, but in Texas of all places. I was 20 and I was visiting a childhood friend who was living there at the time. We grew up in Montana(worlds away from Italy) and we spent a lot of time together doing just about everything. She was, and still is, a wonderful friend and as I've gotten older I have become more and more thankful for her and her influences in my life....especially when it comes to cooking. When we were young she and her family were the only ones I knew that traveled internationally(not counting Canada which was like going to the next state over) and it showed in her home. When everyone else had drip coffee, dried herbs in jars, and sugar - her family had tea, french press coffee, a fresh herb garden and a big bucket of honey. Everything always seemed different and a little more exciting at her place. I remember the first time she put maple extract in my milk, the first time I saw her cut cheese with a cheese slicer, the first time she gave me cheese and chocolate together(it's amazing), the first time she made fried cheese(YES, she likes cheese). She was always making something for us or showing me something new and without knowing it at the time she was helping to fuel my wander-lusting fire. She made dreams feel closer. She made different places and other things feel possible. When I was visiting her in Texas and she said she wanted to make Panzanella, I wasn't surprised that it was something I had never heard of before...she was always doing that. I also wasn't surprised that it was delicious...she was always a good cook too. And being that is was so delicious...I also wasn't surprised it was Italian:) I've never looked back...
This rustic Italian dish originated in Tuscany and dates back to the 1600's if you can believe it! It is simple and delicious and it is perfect for those hot summer days(I know I'm a bit late but oh well...still amazing!). It's fresh and light but still hearty enough to make a wonderful lunch or dinner. It has many variations but for the most part it's base ingredients seemed to always be the same no matter how many of my Italian cookbooks I looked through. This recipe is also another one of those recipes that likes to show off the beautiful colors of the Italian flag. White from the bread, red from the tomatoes and onions, and the green from the basil and cucumber are all happy to make up the Italian color trio. I've made this recipe with the basic ingredients I saw most when researching different ways to make it but with my variation on the bread. Below I have written some of the types of add-ons so that you can play around with it as you like. I have also added the more traditional way of the bread preparation.
2 tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 small cucumber, peeled and sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces.
1/3 - 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil + extra for drizzling
3 - 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or to taste
salt and pepper to taste
6-8 slices of a crusty country bread
1. Slice the bread and drizzle with olive oil. Grill or toast in oven until lightly browned.
2. Tear or cut the bread into bite size pieces and place them into a bowl.
3. To the bread, add the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and torn basil.
4. Mix together the olive oil and vinegar. Pour the 2/3 of the dress over the salad, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss well to coat evenly. Taste. Add additional oil and vinegar mix, salt, and pepper as desired.
The dish can either be eaten right away or let to sit for 30 min to 1 hour depending on taste.
Drinking wine during preparation and the eating this salad is definitely recommended!
Some extra stuff
The bread - This is probably the most important part of this salad...after all, it is a bread salad :) It needs to be a crusty country bread, stale or day old and if you want to take it one step further towards the traditional method, you can use the salt-less Tuscan bread. The bread that I used in this recipe and in the pictures was fresh bread. I grilled with olive oil to toast it up a bit and give it some texture.
Traditional Bread Method - Slice your day old or stale bread and place the slices in a bowl. Sprinkle with water. Let it sit 15 -30 min depending on how stale it is/was. Squeeze out any excess water and wipe the bowl dry. Tear or cut the bread and return to the bowl. Start at step 3 of the recipe above.
Add-ons - If you like a little extra salt you can add olives, anchovies, and or capers. If you would like a little extra crunch you can add celery, peppers and or fennel. If you would like to add a little protein you can add mozzarella, hard boiled eggs and or shrimp.
Gluten Free - This recipe can definitely be made using GF bread. The bread should be grilled like above to give it the best texture. It should also be added to the veggies, mixed and eaten right away because GF bread will not hold up in the dressing the way regular bread does. Leftovers with GF bread are not recommended so only add the bread to what you want to eat right away:)