Panzanella is a popular summertime salad of bread and tomatoes from Italy’s province of Tuscany.
Simple, honest flavors are at the heart of Tuscan cuisine. Not surprising, since most Tuscan dishes have their origins in hearty, uncomplicated peasant cooking. As in other rustic cuisines, most Tuscan dishes revolve around a few ingredients of exceptional quality, including full-flavored olive oil, fresh herbs and other fresh produce. Legumes, bread, cheese, mushrooms and fresh fruit also figure prominently in the cooking of the region.
The mouthwatering salad known as “Panzanella” is a great way to use up leftover or slightly stale bread that otherwise might be tossed out. It is important to use slightly dry bread in this recipe, since fresh bread is just too soft to absorb the full flavor of the tomato juices, oil and vinegar. Leftover or day-old bread, slathered with olive oil, then grilled over a flame and rubbed with a raw garlic clove forms a perfect “sponge” for soaking up all that goodness.
While the exact ingredients for this savory salad frequently vary from recipe to recipe, some things are essential; most versions include fresh tomatoes and bread dressed with tangy red wine vinegar and good olive oil. Since Tuscany is famous for producing robust, intensely flavored olive oils, this zesty salad cries out for a really good one. While olive oils of lesser quality may be fine for some dishes, the distinctive flavor of extra virgin olive oil is a major contributor to the overall flavor and appeal of this dish. Don’t worry about buying the most expensive olive oil – just get the best you can realistically afford. It really does make a difference.
This dish gets better the longer the flavors are allowed to infuse. Allow it to stand for at least a couple of hours and up to a day in advance before you serve it.
Grilled Panzanella (Tuscan Bread and Tomato Salad)
Our version of Panzanella differs slightly from the classic salad in a couple of ways. First, we’ve grilled the tomatoes and green onions briefly over a very hot flame, just enough to char the outside and add some wonderful flavor, but not enough to cook them through. Second, we’ve added some salad greens. We used a blend from the garden, mainly arugula and other strongly flavored greens, which contribute their fresh texture and pleasantly piquant bite to the mix.
As always, we strongly encourage you to experiment with other ingredients and seasonal produce. Food and cooking are social by nature and should be fun!
- 1 bunch green onions, washed and trimmed
- 6 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the bread
- 1/2 loaf slightly stale French or Italian bread (about 8 oz)
- 1 clove raw garlic, peeled
- 4 – 6 small tomatoes or 2 pints ripe cherry tomatoes
- 2 cups mixed greens (arugula, watercress, mache, leaf lettuces, etc)
- 1 bunch fresh basil, rinsed, with stems removed (optional)
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained (optional)
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- sea salt & freshly ground pepper
Preheat the grill to high.
Toss the green onions with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Grill the onions, turning from time to time, until lightly charred, about 4 minutes. Remove to a plate and allow to cool, then chop coarsely.
Toss the tomatoes with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and grill briefly over high heat, just until the skin chars, about 3 – 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool. Halve or quarter the tomatoes, depending on size, retaining any juices.
Cut the bread into slices, each about an inch thick. Brush the bread slices generously with olive oil on both sides. Grill over high heat until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Slice the garlic lengthwise and rub all over the bread. Tear or cut the bread into large, bite-sized pieces.
Place the bread into a large bowl, together with the green onions, grilled tomatoes, capers, basil leaves and the mixed greens. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and vinegar and toss it all together. Season to taste with salt & pepper and allow to stand for at least an hour or two (or up to overnight) before serving.
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