June 5, 2012

Panzanella Salad

Before the age of 25, I had never even heard of Panzanella salad.  The salads I grew up with were your average garden variety.  Don't get me wrong, they were always delicious, but in general they consisted of lettuce, carrots, celery, and tomatoes topped with whatever bottled dressing was currently stocking our refrigerator door.  These days I like to change it up a little (okay, a LOT) when it comes to my salad repertoire.  So last night, when I saw a half-eaten loaf of Seeduction Bread from Whole Foods staring at me, I realized that I needed to come up with something that would use up several slices of this soon-to-be-stale bread.  A number of things ran through my head:

  • bread pudding - no...that's too sweet;
  • savory bread pudding - eh...still too much work; and
  • french toast - nah...too breakfastey AND too sweet.

And then it hit me!  

I remembered a time, about three years ago, when I was staying with a dear friend for a week or two.  This friend is a foodie, like me, and one summer evening she whipped together this amazing bread and vegetable salad and called it Panzanella.  It was d.e.l.i.c.i.o.u.s.!  Thinking back on it, I honestly can't believe that I have waited so long to recreate the dish in my own kitchen.

Well, wait no longer!

Panzanella is here!

Specifically, Panzanella is a Florentine salad of bread and tomatoes popular in the summer.  It includes chunks of soaked stale bread and tomatoes, sometimes also onions and basil, dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  It is also popular in other parts of central Italy.

Panzanella salad is an Italian salad that was probably an invention of necessity.  Italian cooks waste nothing, and this was a way to utilize stale bread and vegetables from the garden.  The record of Panzanella goes back centuries.  In the 1500's, a poem by the famous artist, Bronzino, described the salad.  Of course, the tomato was quite a few years from being introduced into the Italian kitchen.  Therefore, until the 20th century, Panzanella was based on onions.  
[Today, Panzanella] always includes bread and tomatoes plus vegetables from the garden.  Vegetables can include cucumbers and onions.  Other ingredients - lettuce, olives, mozarella, white wine, capers, anchovies, celery, carrots, red wine, tuna, parsley, boiled eggs, mint, bell peppers, lemon juice, and garlic - are sometimes used, but Florentine traditionalists disapprove of them.  (Source 1 and Source 2)

Here is my version of the classic Italian dish, using many of the vegetables that we found at the Riverside Arts Market this past Saturday!

Panzanella Salad
Serves 4

4 pieces stale bread (or bread left out overnight), cubed
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 large tomatoes, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
2-3 outer leaves of romaine lettuce, chopped
1 tsp dried parsley
1T dried basil
zest of 1 lemon
1-2T balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Drizzle the cubed bread with 1T EVOO.
  • Bake the bread cubes for 15-20 minutes, tossing every 7-8 minutes, until crispy and lightly browned.
  • Meanwhile, cook the minced garlic in 1 tsp EVOO until fragrant.
  • Add the tomatoes, onion, cucumber, romaine, parsley, basil, and lemon zest to a large salad bowl.
  • Add the cooked garlic.
  • Drizzle in the EVOO and balsamic vinegar, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Toss to incorporate.
  • Add in the baked bread cubes; and toss.
  • Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes to allow the flavors to mingle.
  • Serve, chilled, alongside your protein of choice.

Next time - another book review (and this time the book is neither utopian/dystopian in theme nor Young Adult in genre).  In fact, it's historical fiction, and I can't wait to tell you all about it!

Question of the Day:

Have you ever had a Panzanella salad before?  If so, what did you think? If not, have you ever made your own croutons?!

Ally and Bo


  1. I have never tried this salad before, but I have made my own croutons. I like to sprinkle dry seasoning (garlic, onion, pepper, etc.) on the cubed bread pieces, then fry them in olive oil.

    1. I thought making the croutons was so much fun! Next time I will have to add in some of they dry seasonings that you mentioned. :)