Panzanella Recipe (Bread and Tomato Salad Recipe)

God forbid you don’t buy fresh bread every day in France. And I love bread, so it’s not unusual for me to come home carrying more than I should. So the problem is, it’s rather difficult to eat all that bread.

Bread

So what to do with all that lovely leftover bread? I make Panzanella, a Tuscan salad designed to use up lots of leftover bread, which we ate this weekend during an outing in the countryside. Tuscans don’t salt their bread, which goes back to a long-standing rift between them and the people from Pisa, who controlled the prices of salt many years ago..and they say I hold grudges!

(But if you’ve ever had unsalted bread, you perhaps can understand why they have so much leftover.)

You can use any firm-textured bread you have on hand. I prefer levain bread, which is dense and won’t fall apart when tossed around. But you should use what you have leftover as long as it’s not too airy. And in spite of what everyone tells you, it’s not vital to use pricey heirloom tomatoes:marinating them in copious amounts of fresh herbs will infuse ordinary tomatoes with summertime flavor. And feel free to use lots of chopped fresh herbs as well. Oregano, marjoram, thyme, and fresh mint are all wonderful mixed in.

panzanellablog.jpg

Panzanella

About six servings

Adapted from The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz


In traditional panzanella, the bread gets soaked first. However I find tossing it in a copious amount of liquid from the tomatoes, and the dressing, does the same thing and adds lots of flavor. Interestingly, I’ve read that tomatoes were supposedly not used in panzanella until 1928. But like most foods, origins are often mired in controversy.

  • 4 cups torn pieces of hearty, country-style bread (approximately 1-inch/3 cm pieces)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • lots of freshly ground pepper
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 3/4 cup best-quality olive oil
  • 8 medium tomatoes (1½ pounds/750 grams)
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, halved, and seeds scraped away
  • 3/4 cup pitted black olives, preferably kalamata
  • 1 cup packed (80 grams) coarsely chopped mixed fresh basil, mint, and flat-leaf parsley

(Note: I don’t precisely measure herbs for this, so feel free to use lots and lots. The more the better!)
½ pound (250 grams) feta cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC) degrees. Spread the torn bread pieces on a baking sheet and toast until deep golden brown, about 15 minutes. Stir once or twice as they’re toasting. Set aside to cool.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the mustard, salt, pepper, garlic, and vinegar. Add the diced onion and let sit for at least 30 minutes. Stir in the olive oil. Remove the stems from the tomatoes and cut into 1-inch (3 cm) pieces. Cut the cucumber into ½-inch (1½ cm) pieces.

3. Add the tomatoes and cucumbers to the bowl with the dressing. Add the bread, olives and fresh herbs and toss well. Taste, and add additional salt, oil, and vinegar to your liking.
Crumble the feta over the top in large chunks and toss briefly.

10 comments

  • your panzanella looks fantastic but I would be just as happy to raid your bread box for those leftovers. It looks like christmas for bread lovers. Atkins be damned.

  • Michele: I’m still working my way through all the rest of the bread (if you can believe it.) The chunk of bread on the right (pain Avergnate) came off a HUGE loaf at the boulangerie. The photo doesn’t do it justice; it’s about the size of a bowling ball…and that’s just the corner! David

  • Hi David,
    bowling ball bread, perfect! Your tendency to bring home too much bread is much like my problem with cheese. There are days when I come home with 5 different kinds, only to buy a couple more the next day. But its this new world of french cheese that Ive found since moving to Europe and I cant stop myself! I may need help, Im just not sure I want it..

  • You forgot to put the reserved bread back into the salad. Before or after the feta?

  • Micky, I am so busted! I can’t expect you wouldn’t make a bread salad without the bread! Ok, I added them in the recipe (the bread should be added at the end, but can rest in everything for a while to soak up juices and flavor.) The salad can be made a few hours in advance and left to sit, at room temperature, prior to serving.
    Ciao…David

  • I love Panzanella. What could be better than bread, tomatoes and cheese? Thanks for sharing!

  • Dijon mustard and feta in the panzanella????? This is a joke, isn’t it? Apart from the fact that there’s no cheese at all in the panzanella, if there were it certainly wouldn’t be Greek cheese! And do you really think that the farmers that brought the panzanella with them on the fields in Tuscany would use a dressing with dijon mustard? Their top quality olive oil, fresh basil and stale bread soaked in water and vinegar (and this is the key passage that you seem to have forgotten, the bread must be soaked in water or water and vinegar, and squeezed vigorously) makes the panzanella perfect without any need to add some French potion. Gosh, sometimes I can’t believe how badly Italian cuisine is treated on the web. Please come to Italy, try our recipes and THEN post them on your blog.

  • I have been to Italy, many times in fact, and in Tuscany at a restaurant, I was once served a ‘panzanella’ made with spelt, rather than bread. And yes, that was a recipe that, presumably, was Italian.

    With the dressing, the bread gets very soaked and I never feel the need to soak and squeeze it. And I like ricotta salata (dried, crumbly ricotta) with this. But since that’s not available everywhere, I swap out feta.

    I know that in Italy, food is very regional, and changes from place to place. “Pizza” in Rome is very different than pizza in Naples. And gelato in Torino uses heavier ingredients, and sometimes eggs. Where in the south, gelato is often thickened with a starch, because egg yolks are considered too rich. Both would be considered true, authentic Italian gelati, but the recipes are indeed different.

    (Similarly, I coated popovers with a sugar crust, which isn’t customary, but they were very, very good. It was based on a traditional recipe, but altered. So is that wrong?)

    I had pistou in Nice once, at a very traditional Niçoise restaurant, which was made with a bit of cream and emmental cheese. I thought it was odd, but was told that that’s how they make it there. Like most countries, including France, food changes depending on local tastes and availability of ingredients.

  • Thanks for your answer in spite of my not very polite mail (sorry about that by the way, I was in a bad mood, Italy had just lost against England in the 6 nations). I agree with you that in Italy food is very regional and that’s why it’s so delicious. It’s because we use local ingredients to make our local dishes. I’m perfectly ok with fusion cuisine and experimenting but regional cusine is different, it’s a question of identity and tradition. My mother, who comes from the province of Siena, a land of hills, makes the panzanella with soaked bread, tomatoes, red onion, basil and olive oil.

    Her “neighbours” from Pisa, I’ve seen, add tuna fish or anchovies to their panzanella, because it’s near the sea so their panzanella has also fish in it. Probably every family in Tuscany has its own recipe for the panzanella, like here in Piemonte where I live, every family has its own recipe for the risotto al barbera and the bagna cauda or the bollito misto. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Of traditional regional cuisine. The differences lies in the availability of the ingredients produced LOCALLY that’s why feta cheese or dijon mustard don’t make sense to me in a panzanella. Call it whatever you like but it’s not a panzanella, not more than you can call “spaghetti al pomodoro” a dish of spaghetti with ketchup (and I’m not saying that your dish isn’t delicious by the way, unlike spaghetti with ketchup) otherwise the identity of the regional dish is lost. I always thought that cuisine is (like music, literature, painting) a form of art that defines the identity of people and speaks of their history and must be preserved so that everyone can enjoy it. But that’s me :-)
    Ciao

  • I have tried the unsalted bread in Tuscany last Summer, can’t stand that taste : ) But the salad tastes good, a lot of restos there offer it compliementary.