Panzanella – Italian for "Summer"

Panzanella – Italian for "Summer"

A surprising number of peasant dishes use stale bread as the main ingredient. Forget whatever you have heard about stale bread being the prison grub. This version is seriously good.

Imagine A Perfect Summer Day

A large backyard on a gently sloping hill. Encircled trees provide just enough shelter from the sun for a handful of white plastic picnic chairs. It’s warm enough to be comfortable in the shade, the perfect place to polish off your heaping plate of food.

The sole table is covered with a simple cloth and food. Tons of food. Brilliantly colored food. Such fresh food that it is bursting with even more flavor than color.

Tomatoes, basil, strawberries, zucchini . . . somehow all of the best summer foods take on the color of the Italian flag. And why not? They know how best to enjoy summer’s bounty.

The Typical Twosome

As green as the water off the riviera, Italian basil is like no other. Slightly spicy, but largely sweet, countless dishes draw their unique flavor from this singular herb.

With the possible exception of pesto, basil is at its prime when contrasted against a ripe, succulent tomato. Though this combination typically calls to mind an insalata caprese, I have something better for you today.

Enjoy your summer tomatoes and basil as the Italians do.

Panzanella Recipe

Prep time: 5 minutes
Serves: 8-10

Ingredients

  • one baguette*
  • three large heirloom tomatoes (the uglier, the better)
  • one large sweet onion
  • a handful of fresh basil leaves
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • white wine vinegar
  • freshly ground pepper
  • salt

Note*: Florentine cooking maven Judy (over at Divina Cucina) recently complained that it is difficult to make panzanella in the U.S. because the bread doesn’t go stale. For this reason, make sure you get a proper, artesianal baguette. It should get hard and stale a day or two after you buy it.

Method

  1. Break the baguette into chunks and soak in a large bowl filled with water.
  2. Roughly chop the onion and add to a large serving bowl.
  3. Take the bread out, piece by piece, squeezing out the excess water as you go.
  4. Tear the soaked bread and the basil leaves into bite-sized chunks in the same bowl as the onion.
  5. Roughly chop the tomatoes and add. Stir gently to combine.
  6. Sprinkle one tablespoon olive oil, two teaspoons each salt and vinegar, and one teaspoon freshly ground teaspoon on the salad. Stir again gently to combine.
  7. Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

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