Panzanella is a Tuscan bread salad that includes seasoned cubes of toasted bread, tossed in an olive oil vinaigrette dressing along with an assortment of raw vegetables. The idea is similar to the Middle Eastern fattoush salad which includes toasted pita bread.
The original panzanella salad, thought to date back to the 16th century, called for onions and bread in dressing. Modern panzanella, however, usually includes tomato instead of onion.
This dish is a great way to use stale bread, since it will soak up the dressing well. If using fresh bread, toast it with olive oil in a skillet or in the oven before tossing it in with the dressing. Other typical ingredients in this style of salad are tomatoes, bell peppers of all colors, cucumbers, red onion, and fresh basil. Fresh cheese such as feta or mozzarella is always a welcome addition too.
Panzanella salads are highly customizable, so feel free to add or subtract according to your tastes. Try adding in some crisp greens such as arugula and capers or olives for a salty bite.
- For the Bread Cubes:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 slices Tuscan bread, cut into 1" cubes
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- Pinch of kosher salt
- For the Salad:
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- 1 English seedless cucumber, thinly sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1" pieces
- 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1" pieces
- 1/4 large red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 10 fresh basil leaves, sliced
- For the Dressing:
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
To make the bread cubes, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the cubed bread, dried oregano and salt. Cook over medium low heat, stirring often, for about 10 minutes or until the bread is browned. You can also toss the bread in the olive oil and seasonings, spread it out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
To make the dressing, whisk together the minced garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper until combined.
To assemble the salad, in a large bowl add the tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, red bell peppers, yellow bell peppers, red onion, and basil. Add the bread cubes and toss well with the dressing. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired and, ideally, allow the salad to sit for about 30 minutes to an hour so the bread can absorb the flavors.
Optional bread choices can be French or sourdough. Cheese is a common addition, with the best options being crumbled feta or fresh mozzarella.