Bright in flavor and full of delicious texture, this panzanella is filled with toasted ciabatta bread, ripe juicy tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, onions and olives—it’s a tasty twist on the traditional Tuscan version!
Panzanella, a Vibrant and Delicious Bread Salad
When I think of a basic panzanella with its rustic bread, tomatoes, onions, and tangy-salty vinaigrette, it makes my mouth water.
These flavors and textures together are such a unique and delicious treat, and a great way to make use of the bounty of tomatoes this time of year.
Panzanella is a Tuscan salad, and typically it includes little else than tomatoes (along with their juices), onions and stale bread that has been soaked in water and then squeezed out and torn into pieces.
And all of this is traditionally dressed with nothing more than olive oil, some salt and pepper, making for a scrumptious “bread salad” that has lots of flavor and body.
It’s wonderfully filling and flavorful!
But when I recently got a craving for a big beautiful bowl of this refreshing, hearty, and tasty Tuscan staple, I decided to make my own “updated” version with toasted cubes of rustic bread and a few more ingredients to tweak things slightly from the traditional.
Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of the traditional soaked, stale bread; so I prefer to use ciabatta bread, cubed and tossed with olive oil, then toasted in the oven until golden and crisp.
I allow the bread to cool before adding it to a combination of ripe, juicy tomatoes, red onion, capers, roasted red peppers and briny olives tossed in a simple vinaigrette that’s nice and tart and garlic-y.
And to finish off my panzanella recipe, I tear up some fresh basil leaves and top it with some delicious pearl mozzarella—so scrumptious and flavorful!
How to Make Panzanella
Because panzanella is such a wonderfully rustic salad, there truly is no “set” way to prepare it, or exact amount of ingredients, per se.
Everyone seems to have their own way of prepping it (some folks allow the panzanella to rest for a while, some serve immediately), and the beauty of it is that you can make it according to your personal tastes and preferences.
For example, if you like a bit more bread, you can add more bread; if you like more tomatoes (and other ingredients), add more of those. The ratios are pretty much up to you.
You’re basically looking to combine everything together in order for those savory, tangy and mildly sweet flavors to come together and mingle so that each and every bite has lots of flavor!
Here’s how I make my panzanella:
- I like to use ciabatta (or other rustic Italian bread), and cube it to about 1″ to 1 1/2” pieces, making about 6 cups worth.
- Then, I toss the cubed bread with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and give it a quick toast in a 400° oven just until golden (about 15 minutes.)
- While the bread cools, I chop up my tomatoes and add them to a large bowl with a few pinches of salt (it helps to release their juices) and some chopped parsley. Next, I add some thinly sliced red onions, roasted red peppers, capers and olives.
- Then, I shake up (in a small jar) a small batch of a quick vinaigrette, and pour that over my tomato mixture.
- When I’m ready to assemble, I add my cooled, toasted bread cubes to my tomato and vinaigrette mixture, toss everything together gently just to combine, then turn it out onto a platter.
- I allow the panzanella to rest in the fridge for at least a half hour to an hour (up to four hours) to allow the flavors to penetrate the bread.
- Before serving, I top the panzanella salad with torn basil leaves (or “baby” leaves) and pieces of fresh mozzarella; I serve it with a little extra olive oil on the side.
Believe it or not, the bread doesn’t get as soggy as you might think it would; it simply soaks up the juices and the vinaigrette, and takes on all those savory and delicious flavors that make up this unique and delicious salad!
Tips & Tidbits for Panzanella:
- Rustic bread is best: Use a good ciabatta loaf, a crusty, chewy baguette, or a rustic Italian-style loaf for this recipe—it’ll keep its shape in this salad better than something too soft or spongy.
- Toast the bread cubes: You can certainly go the more traditional route and use good stale bread for this recipe, one that has a bit of chew to it. But I personally like to toast my bread with a pinch of salt and some good olive oil—it’s a bit crisper and more flavorful, in my opinion.
- Choose ripe, juicy tomatoes: Got some tomatoes that are starting to get soft? Those are perfect for this panzanella recipe! These release the most juice (an important aspect to this recipe), so cut them up into chunks and toss ’em in. What you want to avoid is super firm tomatoes that are not quite as juicy and ripe yet.
- Other add-ins: If you’d like to add in even more tasty ingredients, some other good options are red/yellow bell peppers, cucumbers, anchovies, marinated artichokes, and different cheeses.
- Give it time: While it’s tempting to tuck in right away, a panzanella salad is best when allowed to rest for about thirty minutes to an hour, covered in the fridge, to allow the juices and flavors to really mingle together and soak into that cubed bread. This is not totally mandatory, but tastes best.
Feast your eyes on these, or just jump to the recipe:
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: Serves 8
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 12 minutes (for toasting bread)
• 6 (slightly heaping) cups cubed ciabatta bread, or other rustic bread (roughly 10 ounces cut to 1 – 1 1/2” cubes)
• 1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
• Black pepper
• 2 pounds ripe tomatoes (I like “pearl” or “campari” tomatoes) cut into bite-size wedges or pieces
• 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
• 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
• 1/4 cup sliced roasted red pepper (from a jar)
• 1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, sliced
• 1 tablespoon drained capers
• 1/2 cup torn basil leaves
• 1/2 cup fresh “pearl” mozzarella (or torn up pieces of a larger boule of fresh mozzarella)
• 2 tablespoons white or red wine vinegar
• 3 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
• 1/4 cup olive oil
–Preheat the oven to 400°, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
–Evenly drizzle the bread cubes with the 1/4 cup olive oil, and add in a good pinch of salt and pepper, and toss to combine; turn out onto the baking sheet and toast for about 15 minutes, stirring a couple of times, until golden and crisp; remove and allow to cool.
–While the bread cubes are cooling, prepare your vinaigrette ingredients by placing them into a mason jar and shaking vigorously; set aside.
–Once the cubed bread is cooled, place your tomatoes, parsley, sliced red onion, sliced roasted red pepper, olives and capers into a large bowl, and add a pinch or two of salt; then, drizzle in the vinaigrette and toss gently to combine.
–Add in the cooled toasted bread and gently fold that in to incorporate it into the tomato/vinaigrette mixture, then turn out onto a platter to rest/chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
–When ready to serve, top with torn basil leaves and the pearl mozzarella, and serve with some extra olive oil to drizzle over top as a finisher.