Get Creative with Panzanella

A grandmother we know and love always reminds us that some of the best Italian recipes were born from left overs. When you find yourself with extra bread, we suggest making Panzanella, a Florentine summer salad of bread and tomatoes. The bread can be fresh, toasted, even a few days old and hard. The bread soaks up the dressing, making it soft and full of flavor.

The most basic and traditional Panzanella includes bread and tomatoes dressed with olive oil and vinegar. Red onions, basil and cucumber are most commonly added. We encourage you to create your own version with varieties of lettuce and other seasonal vegetables, olives, artichoke hearts, garbanzo beans, cheese, capers, anchovies, and more.

Here, we add arugula for some greenery and a peppery taste. This is a rustic salad by nature so the amounts provided are just suggestions. We encourage you to get creative and make this your own.

Panzanella

Ingredients:

Your favorite loaf of Essential bread (any will do, especially Cibatta, Columbia, Fremont Sour White, Pugliese, Mille Grane or Pain du George) cut into 1 inch cubes
2 tomatoes (roma, heirloom, cherry or combination of your favorites)
1 small red onion, sliced thinly
a handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped or torn
a handful of fresh arugula
for the dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine or balsamic vinegar
1 clove minced or crushed garlic
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Directions:

Combine all vegetables except the arugula.

Slice the bread into 1 inch cubes.

Make the dressing by thoroughly mixing the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper in a separate bowl or container.

Layer the ingredients in a large bowl. Start with about half of the vegetable mixture, followed by half of the bread cubes, then the rest of the vegetable mixture and the remaining bread, drizzling some of the dressing on each layer as you go. Cover and refrigerate for 30 – 60 minutes.

Remove from refrigerator and add in the arugula and gently toss the salad, tasting to see if more salt or pepper is needed. If the bread is very dry, add more olive oil.

A tip to save time: Cut the vegetables, bread, and prepare the dressing ahead of time. Wait to combine your ingredients until an hour before you need them. Depending on how soft you want your bread, you can make this several hours ahead. The longer it’s refrigerated, the more liquid the bread is allowed to absorb. If using lettuce, wait to add that to the dressed mixture.

Our Madison and Wallingford cafes make a Greek version with our Rosemary bread. What’s in your favorite Panzanella recipe?