I recently ate panzanella, when I visited some relatives who live in Montelupo Fiorentino, a small town between Empoli and Florence. Eating panzanella after so long, reminded me once again just how much I love and adore it. In a nutshell, panzanella is tomato-bread salad. I imagine (actually, I’m almost sure) it was originally created as a way to use up old, staling bread, as that is panzanella’s key component. I can’t even remember the first time I ever tried it, but panzanella has been one of my favorite delights for years, especially in the warm season. There’s just something special about it. With all the tomatoes and basil around, it’s definitely a summertime dish. The result will be even more lovely if you use vegetables grown in your own garden, like tomatoes, basil, red onions and cucumber. Try this healthy, Tuscan salad: you won’t be disappointed!
1 loaf of crusty Tuscan bread
1 whole cucumber, halved, seeded and sliced
6 whole tomatoes, diced or cut into wedges
1/2 whole red onion, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil plus more for drizzling on the bread
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
25 whole basil leaves
Parmesan cheese, to taste
Preheat the oven to 275°F. Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes, arrange on a baking sheet, and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Place the pan in the oven for 20-25 minutes to slightly crisp (“stale”) the bread without toasting it. Remove it from the oven and allow to cool down.
In a large bowl, combine bread, onion, cucumber and tomatoes. In a small jar, shake together the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Pour over the salad ingredients, tossing gently. Add basil and Parmesan shavings and toss again. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature for an hour or two before serving. Sprinkle panzanella with more salt and pepper and serve.