I ate my first panzanella salad while traveling through Tuscany with my mom several years ago. We had rented a car in Pisa and were meandering our way through the rolling Italian hills covered with grape vines and olive groves when we realized that, even by European standards, it was long past lunch hour. Restaurants were few and far between on this lonely stretch of road but we made a vow that we would stop at the every next place we came across and eat lunch. Soon we came to the crest of a hill and saw a small stone restaurant literally perched on the edge of the road. There was barely enough space to park our Fiat and with two wrought iron tables outside we wondered what we were getting into but we decided to try it anyway and we were so glad we did. That simple lunch of panzanella salad and glasses of Chianti was the best meal we ate during our entire trip and I still think about it today.
Because panzanella has so few ingredients, it is important that they be of the freshest and best quality you can find. Tomatoes and basil are in their prime here in the Mediterranean world during the summer so now is the perfect time to make this salad. I’ve served it alongside grilled meats as a side dish but my favorite way to eat panzanella is the way I first experienced it: as is with a glass of Chianti.
5 ripe tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 English cucumbers, peeled, sliced, and sliced thinly
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
3/4 cup olive oil, or more as needed
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste
1 loaf Italian bread, or other crusty loaf; day old bread is preferable
- Place the tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, and basil in a medium-sized bowl. Add the olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper and toss to combine.
- Cut the bread into bite-sized cubes. Place half of the bread in a large shallow serving bowl.
- Add half of the tomato mixture to the top of the bread then top with the remainder of the bread.
- Layer the rest of the tomato mixture and all of the juices on top of the bread.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap then let sit in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
- Toss the salad to combine all of the ingredients. If the bread is still dry drizzle with additional olive oil. Adjust the seasonings.
Serves: 8 as side salad or 4 as an entree