Panzanella is a classic Tuscan style salad made with slightly stale bread, fresh ripe tomatoes and basil leaves. The Italians don’t like to waste anything and this salad really proves that. Back in the olden days, panzanella was based on onions as well. Modern versions seldom use onions!
The key to a great panzanella is to use the freshest tomatoes available and also a good quality aged balsamic vinegar preferably from Italy. (A bottle of balsamic will last for ages and the more old it gets, the better!) The balsamic provides the lovely flavour which the bread readily soaks up. I use Colavita which is from the province of Modena and hence the name Aceto Balsamico di Modena. It’s slightly expensive but if you’re going to make a traditional panzanella you might as well do it right with the best quality ingredients! 🙂
Another key ingredient is a good quality extra virgin olive oil. Some people substitute the balsamic vinegar with a good quality red wine vinegar and that works well too.
- Day old (crusty, slightly hard) baguette- about 10 inches
- Juicy- ripe tomatoes- 2 (big)
- Red onion- ½
- Basil leaves- 8 to 10
- Parsley leaves- small handful; finely shredded (Optional)
- Aged balsamic vinegar- 2-3 tablespoons
- Extra virgin olive oil- 2 ½ tablespoons
- Salt and pepper- to taste
Preheat oven to 180°C. Roughly tear your bread into bite-size chunks for a rustic panzanella. If you wish to have it less rustic and more refined, you can cube the bread into chunks using a sharp knife. Place the bread on a baking tray and bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown, toasted and crisp. Remove from the oven, toss with a little salt & pepper and allow it to slightly cool.
Cut the tomatoes into big cubes and thinly slice the red onion. Combine the tomatoes, onions and bread in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Toss gently and to it, add the shredded parsley. Drizzle the olive oil and balsamic vinegar into the bowl. Roughly tear the basil leaves, toss the mixture and let it sit for 1-2 minutes so that the bread soaks up the balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
(Note– Give it a taste , if it needs more acidity, add more balsamic vinegar. It’s all based on your preference and liking.)