Panzanella is one of my favorite summer meals. When the tomatoes are perfect, there is nothing better than this salad, and as I just picked our first of the season tomatoes.. this was a fitting dish to celebrate the event.
According to Cooking American, "Panzanella Salad was likely an invention of necessity, because Italian cooks are known to not waste a single clove of garlic or a sprig of parsley". It's origins date back to a time when shepherds used to herd sheep for long distances and had small amounts of food to take. What they usually had with themselves was some loaves of stale bread and the various vegetables they could find along the road to and back from the mountains and grasslands. Panzanella combines these ingredients adding to the flavor, fresh herbs, extra virgin olive oil and a vinegar for a surprisingly tasty dish. Vegetables could include peppers, cucumbers, and onions. Lots of garlic, capers, black olives, and anchovies added to the salad. Chilled, this is such a refreshing addition to the table as a side, or main course. I served this the other night with slices of rosemary and onion tart.
Panzanella Salad is a great way to utilize stale bread and the freshest of garden veggies. The Tuscan cuisine as it is known today is a blend of the two historically distinct kitchens of the rich and the poor. The rich eat lots of meats, vegetables and spices, the poor find tasty ways to utilize left-overs and to use little tricks to make a dish more filling, and not let anything go to waste. I like to wait until a half hour before serving this salad to add more of the reserved stale bread pieces to give it a bit of crunch and then toss it well.
There really are so many variations on the preparation and ingredients of panzanella. Traditionally, capers are used, for example, but I find this too astringent a flavor in this dish. Sometimes I add anchioves to this salad, sometimes not, but I always include olives to my Panzanella salad. Mix it up and you'll see what I mean..this is a wonderful summer dish!
1 loaf of stale crusty unsalted peasant bread.
4 ripe tomatoes, diced or sliced
1 medium cucumber peeled and sliced or diced
fresh lettuce- any kind--I used a mix of greens. Clean it and shred it into bite-size pieces.
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium red onion diced or thinly sliced.
1 handful of basil leaves, roughly cut
1 stem fresh romsemary, leaves minced
pitted black olives *optional
3 TBLS red wine vinegar
3 tsp balsamic vinegar
4 TBLS extra virgin olive oil
sea salt to taste
Break the bread loaf into large cubed pieces and set it in a bowl of water to cover it completely. Don't let it soak too much as it will crumble excessively and be too mushy. Once you realize the bread is all soaked but still quite firm, drain it well and press down with toweling to remove the excess water.
Mix all the ingredients together and half the bread, reserving the remainder and add the extra virgin olive oil, vinegars and salt to taste. After mixing well, add the bread and keep stirring thoroughly.
Refrigerate for at least one hour, then serve immediately. Just before serving I always add the remaining bread crumb to this salad, then drizzle a bit more olive oil give it one last toss before serving. Enjoy!