01 of 10
Making Panzanella: What is Panzanella?
Panzanella is a Tuscan summer bread salad: peasant food, and a way of making stale bread palatable when there was little else to go with it. It's an extremely popular antipasto/first course at Simone Ciattini's La Baracchina, a trattoria in the hills just south of Florence.
Simone notes that, like many other bread-based dishes, for example ribollita or pappa al pomodoro, panzanella has become considerably richer since the end of the War, because people can now afford to add more of the other ingredients that support the bread. Considering that the other ingredients are tomatoes, cucumber and onion, this does make one think.Continue to 2 of 10 below.
02 of 10
Making Panzanella: The Ingredients for Panzanella
Panzanella is, as I said, bread based. You'll need a loaf of day-old Italian bread, of the kind that has a quite firm crust and crumb with enough body to be able to stand up to being thoroughly soaked. American-style soft breads of the sort baked in a baking tin simply will not work for panzanella, because they will collapse into a paste.
In addition to bread you will need:
- Sun-Ripened Tomatoes
- Sweet onion, along the lines of Tropea if you're in Europe, or Vidalia if you're in the Americas
- Salt & pepper
- Olive oil
- Fresh Basil
These are the standard ingredients. As Simone points out, however, Panzanella is a family recipe and as such subject to innumerable variations.
A dear friend of mine liked his poor, with just basil, vinegar, olive oil and salt.
Other enrich theirs with capers, or perhaps pitted slivered black olives, and I have even encountered panzanella with crumbled canned tuna. Which is a bit extreme, but Simone knows people who add carrot or celery (finely sliced crosswise) to their panzanella.Continue to 3 of 10 below.
03 of 10
Making Panzanella: Acidulate the WaterPlain bread is bland, especially Tuscan bread, which is made without salt. To counter the blandness, add some vinegar to the water you soak the bread in. Simone added about a quarter cup to the bowl he was using to make a single portion of Panzanella.Continue to 4 of 10 below.
04 of 10
Making Panzanella: Slice the BreadHalf-inch (1 1/4 cm) slices will be fine.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Making Panzanella: Soak the BreadAs you slice the bread, slip the slices into the water. The longer they soak (within reason) the better; Simone generally sets the bread for one day's batch of panzanella to soak the evening before. At the very least, soak it for 20 minutes.Continue to 6 of 10 below.
06 of 10
Making Panzanella: Squeeze the BreadWell-soaked bread is, well, dripping. You'll need to squeeze it hard to extract as much moisture as possible -- it should be soft and damp though not bone dry. And this is why you need bread with a firm crumb -- a soft crumb will not stand up to being squeezed this way.Continue to 7 of 10 below.
07 of 10
Making Panzanella: The Proper TextureIt is much easier to show, than to explain the texture the bread should have after it has been squeezed and crumbled into the bowl.Continue to 8 of 10 below.
08 of 10
Making Panzanella: The Panzanella is almost ready...While the bread is soaking, slice your tomatoes. Next, peel and slice your cucumber -- Simone likes to leave strips of peel on the cucumber, so that the rounds will have bands of light and dark. Finally, peel and slice your onion, and separate the slices into rings.
In terms of proportions, the picture gives a good indication: the cucumber should be about 1/4 the volume of the tomatoes, and the onion 1/3. If you are adding other ingredients, add them to taste.The final thing to do is shred "an abundance" of fresh basil over all. Next, season with salt and pepper, and add a goodly drizzle of olive oil. Since the soaking water was acidulated with vinegar, it should not be necessary, though you could add a drop if you want.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
Making Panzanella: Mix Well...This is a salad, after all.Continue to 10 of 10 below.
10 of 10
Making Panzanella: Enjoy!Garnish with a nice-looking basil leaf or two, and enjoy your Panzanella!