Panzanella is a sunny Tuscan bread salad made with tomatoes and onions, a clever way to stretch a good country loaf that’s gone a little stale. The traditional peasant dish is a tasty exercise in texture, with crunchy bread soaking up pulp and juice from ripe tomatoes and a peppery snap of red onion. Purists might blanch at the thought of fussing up such a simple dish, but you can really add any other Mediterranean ingredients you have on hand: capers, pitted black olives, roasted red peppers, a big handful of arugula or grilled hunks of summer squash. The proportions below are really just a rough sketch, so tweak as you see fit (more tomatoes, less bread, more basil).
I use the same technique described below to make awesome homemade croutons, the easiest (not to mention cheap!) way to jazz up otherwise ordinary garden salads and Caesars. Coat the bread cubes with the olive oil as evenly as you can, leave in the oven in a little longer (5-10 extra minutes or so) until they’re bone dry, then toss with a little garlic salt and dried herbs (I usually use parsley or an Italian blend). Seal the croutons tightly and keep at room temperature for a week or two and probably three, though at my house they never seem to last that long.
adapted from Polpo: a Venetian Cookbook (of Sorts), 2012; serves four
- 1/2 loaf of day-old, crusty country bread
- 2-3 large heirloom or garden tomatoes
- 1/2 medium red onion
- handful of fresh basil leaves
- extra-virgin olive oil
- kosher salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice or tear the bread into 1″ hunks. On a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle the bread with olive oil (the amount will depend on how much bread you have, but about a 1/4 cup or a little less) and toss.
Bake the bread for 10 minutes, then shake the pan to flip. Bake 5 minutes more until light golden brown. (It’s okay, better even, if they’re not evenly toasted.) Meanwhile, thinly slice the onion and sprinkle with salt (about 1/2 teaspoon) and let sit for 10 minutes to reduce some of their raw bite. Add the warm bread to your serving bowl. Cut the tomatoes into thick wedges, add to your salad bowl and sprinkle lightly with salt. (If you have any tomato pulp or juice on your cutting board, scrape that into the bowl as well.) Add the onions. Tear the basil into small pieces and add to the bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and season with ground black pepper. Toss to combine.