Bread Salad Made with Toasted Bread Isn't Panzanella

August 21, 2016

​Writing about cooking with scraps has expanded my cooking horizons and made me more comfortable with all sorts of could-be discard. But it’s also been a personal journey in learning to love stale bread. I went from being extraordinarily skeptical of any vaguely mushy use for day-old bread to willingly putting it in stuffing, then soup, then eggs—and liking it.

Yet I knew there was another hurdle to cross: panzanella.

Photo by James Ransom

I make, and love, many a bread salad, but I always, always toast the bread first (because, fear of mush). But I also know that for an authentic panzanella, bread should not be toasted, and because I am a rule-follower, I felt I needed to pause my unorthodox ways and try panzanella as originally intended. At least once, anyway.

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In an old Hotline thread, Pamela Sheldon Johns explains both why toasted bread is unorthodox in panzanella yet we often need to resort to that in the U.S.:

To understand this recipe, you need to understand the bread used here to make it. I know it's common to call the bread for panzanella ‘stale,’ but I wish we could say 'day-old.' Tuscan bread is made with no salt, a tradition that goes back to when salt was highly taxed and peasant farmers used it only for essential things like curing cheeses and meats. Bread can be made without salt, but dries out within a day... which is why Tuscans have a zillion recipes for using dry bread (pappa al pomodoro, ribollita, acquacotta, etc). To prepare panzanella, the bread is literally soaked, then squeezed out, crumbled, and tossed with salad ingredients. The problem is that in the U.S. it is hard to find salt-free bread, and the breads that I have tried to use there to make panzanella become gooey when soaked.

Just a few of the (tasty) toasty bread offenders:

So how to proceed? As my fellow Food52ers know, when you’re looking for a recipe that at once adheres to a classic as intended, yet still has a dash of opinionated spunk in it, you need to look no far​ther than pierino’s vast collection.

Pierino says “nothing spoils a panzanella more than soggy bread except for, on the other end of the spectrum, a dry crouton.” To get the optimal texture, he recommends it be two to three days old—“stale matters”—and explains that "it really only needs a spritz of water and not a deep soak. It should be wet and softer than a crouton but not by much. It's not supposed to be baby food.”

This level of attention results in bread with just the right amount of bite: I was sold. And combined with the sharpness from vinegar and microgreens, well, this is the best panzanella I’ve ever had.

I can now say that I'm a card-carrying member of the “I heart stale bread” club—care to join me?

Of course, since we’re getting nit-picky, we should note that the original version of panzanella didn’t include tomatoes, either. Perhaps you’d like to try green panzanella?

Know of a great recipe hiding in the Food52 archives that uses an overlooked kitchen scrap (anything from commonly discarded produce parts to stale bread to bones and more)? Tell me about it in the comments: I want to know how you're turning what would otherwise be trash into a dish to treasure!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • WildGreens Sardines
    WildGreens Sardines
  • Kristy Morrill
    Kristy Morrill
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


WildGreens S. March 15, 2020
Do you know the name of the bread that is traditionally used in a panzanella in Tuscany? Do you know what type of flour(s) is used? I want to bake my own bread, but not finding much info online.
Kristy M. August 21, 2016 saw this on tv and found it on you tube a recipe that uses the cut off stems of zucchinis