There is nothing as simple, colorful and happy as the classic Italian Panzanella salad. This rustic tomato and bread salad is always a crowd-pleaser, especially when your garden is plentiful with tomatoes at the end of summer! Visit a Tuscan trattoria and you might spy it on the menu under another name, “The Bronzino,” after the beloved 16th century Florentine painter and poet. Agnolo Bronzino famously said, “He who wishes to fly above the stars, dip his bread and eat to bursting a salad of chopped onion with parsley and cucumbers wins every other pleasure of this life.”
The fragrant melange of tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, red onion and fresh herbs originated in the Tuscan hills and along the sun-drenched Mediterranean as a way to empty the garden and make use of the week-old stale bread before market day on Saturday. The crustier the bread, the better! This week, I used a rustic sourdough from the heavenly Gnarwhal Bakery here in Nashville. The croutons soaked in olive oil and herbs de Provence were exceptional. You could also try an artisanal bread like a rosemary olive or cranberry walnut to give the salad a little more star power.
A Panzanella can be whipped together with whatever ingredients you have on hand. I like to accompany the tomatoes, peppers, onions and bread with a handful of arugula or your favorite leafy greens. A chiffonade of fresh herbs (mint, basil, Italian parsley, oregano & thyme) elevate the salad’s flavors and health quotient. I have included photos of two versions: One, more green (I’ve emptied our garden) with the addition of a dollop of my homemade pesto and bocconcini mozzarella, the other, a more traditional version with olives and feta cheese.
3 large tomatoes diced or a bushel of cherry tomatoes split (I recommend the Heirloom variety for the beauty of colors)
2 diced large English cucumbers
1 diced yellow pepper
1 handful of fresh arugula
1/2 red onion
1/2 cup Pine nuts
1/2 cup crumbled feta or a cup of bocconcini mozzarella
1/2 cup black olives
1 tablespoon capers
1/2 loaf of crusty bread cut into 1 inch chunks
1 cup of chopped fresh herbs (basil, parsley, mint, Parsley, oregano, thyme)
Vinegar of your choice (red wine or balsamic)
For the greener salad, add a dollop of fresh pesto
Salt & Pepper
Drizzle your chunks of bread with olive oil, dress with salt & pepper and Herbes de Provence. Place in oven at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. You desire the bread to be crisp, but not burned!
Chop your tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and add to the bowl. Next, fold in your olives, a handful of salad greens, pine nuts, feta cheese, fresh herbs and capers. Drizzle the mixture with high quality olive oil and balsamic or red wine variety. Include your croutons and toss. Traditionally, the Italians set the salad aside for an hour for the flavors to blend! You can top the salad with a filet of salmon and you have a stellar meal!
P.S. Leftover Panzanella makes a delicious gazpacho for lunch the next day. Toss all the ingredients in the blender, make another tray of rosemary olive bread croutons, and top with a dollop of Greek yogurt. Bonne Appetit!