Panzanella

What is the texture of the bread supposed to be like in a traditional panzanella? I have read that traditionally, stale bread is soaked in water for 20-30 minutes and then wrung out and then re-soaked in oil and vinegar with the tomatoes, etc., but every actual recipe I look at is a little different in its treatment of the bread. I have no problem just trying different things and eating what I like, but I am curious what the authentic Tuscan way is?

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Lindsay-Jean Hard

Not a definitive answer for you, but as a follower of Chocolate & Zucchini, I remembered reading Clotilde's discussion of the authenticity of panzanella recipes: http://chocolateandzucchini... No comment on the wringing out of bread, but it seems that cubing and toasting the bread is definitely out!

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petitbleu
petitbleu May 2, 2013

I go with my own personal preference, which is to use stale hearty bread chunks and then make the panzanella 30 min ahead of time. That way, the bread softens up a bit but not too much.

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pierino
pierino May 2, 2013

Stale bread of course. But 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. And it get's some vinegar too. Here's my own method; http://food52.com/recipes...

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Kristen W.
Kristen W. May 2, 2013

Thanks, all, for the input. And thanks, Pierino, for including the link to your version -- I'll check it out!

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Voted the Best Reply!

Pamela Sheldon Johns

Hello from southern Tuscany! 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 US 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. For the authentic recipe, see my book Cucina Povera. For a non-traditional one, see my Williams-Sonoma Italian book. I will include the traditional recipe in the next post.

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pierino
pierino May 10, 2013

Pamela Sheldon Johns makes an excellent point about Tuscan bread. The bread in neighboring Umbria is saltless as well, and for exactly the same reason, the salt tax. The good old days of the middle ages and the pontificate.

Kristen W.
Kristen W. May 10, 2013

Thanks, Pamela, that really explains the bread-soaking thing! Hmm, sounds like some adaptation is necessary for bread made in the U.S.. In any case, I'd love to see your recipe!

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Pamela Sheldon Johns

Panzanella, Bread Salad
From Cucina Povera by Pamela Sheldon Johns (Pub Andrews McMeel)
Serves 6

Panzanella is one of several classic recipes using dry or day-old bread. Many American versions use croutons, but the authentic version is made with a dry bread that is soaked in water to reconstitute it, then is mixed with tomato, cucumber, basil, and onion, and dressed with olive oil and vinegar. In hard times, it was often made with just bread and onion, but today you may see such additions as tuna, green beans, bell peppers, anchovies, hard-boiled eggs, and capers.

1 pound day-old country-style bread, cut into several pieces
2 large ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 sprigs basil for garnish

Place the bread in a large bowl and add water to cover. Let soak for 15 minutes. Squeeze the bread with your hands and discard the soaking water. Place the bread in a medium bowl with the tomatoes, cucumber, and red onion.

In a small bowl, combine the garlic and vinegar. Gradually whisk in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Toss the dressing with the bread mixture, then garnish with basil sprigs and serve at once.

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Pamela Sheldon Johns

And...
Panzanella from Williams-Sonoma Italian
by Pamela Sheldon Johns, photo by Noel Barnhurst

3 cups day-old Italian bread cubes
2 large ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, diced
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Fresh basil leaves for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and toast in the oven, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Place the bread cubes in a large bowl, add the tomatoes, cucumber, and red onion.
In a small bowl, combine the garlic and vinegar. Whisking constantly, drizzle in the olive oil until well blended. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Toss the dressing with the salad, garnish with basil, and serve at once.

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Kristen W.
Kristen W. May 11, 2013

Thanks for posting these, Pamela!

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