This authentic Italian panzanella salad recipe is as true as it can be. The salad is known by a few names which often refer to its peasant roots. It is said to originate from the Tuscany region, probably due to the abundance of vegetables grown there. The recipe is sometimes known as a traditional Tuscan salad, or simply Panzanella.
Despite it’s humble beginnings, this is a great salad to make with kids because it uses leftover bread which you make soggy and then press the water out. Kids will love making the salad, plus learn the value of never letting food go to waste, especially leftover stale bread.
An Italian Peasant Salad
This is a traditional dish due to it’s humble roots in central Italy. The word panzanella, which it is frequently called, is a combination of two words, pane which means “bread”, and zanella which means “soup bowl”.
This is a quick Italian salad that Italian peasants used to make because it used what they had on hand – in this case at least one day old stale bread, along with vegetables such as tomatoes and onions.
No, it isn’t one of those salads you’d impress someone with on a first date, bragging about it being a peasant salad. But this is an authentic panzanella salad recipe that does epitomize the simple cooking style found in many early Italian recipes. And like most simple recipes, it is easy, tastes delicious, and can be modified to suit your tastes.
How Stale Should the Bread Be?
Let me clarify as well that I’m not saying to use rotten bread that is covered in mold. But let’s face it, besides making breadcrumbs, what else can you use stale bread for? Why not use it to make panzanella!
The bread is almost like croutons. Feel free to toast some bread if you don’t have any stale bread and are anxious to give the salad a try. Actually, using seasoned croutons is a pretty good idea…
It’s amazing how many recipes we use today that originated from peasant cooking. This Italian salad is definitely one of those salads we can appreciate from our past.
Here are the ingredients you need to make an authentic panzanella salad. Specific measurements are in the recipe card at the end of this post, but frankly, the salad is very flexible. I include a list further down of additional ideas for fresh ingredients you can add to this salad.
- Stale crusty bread
- Ice cold water
- Fresh meaty and juicy tomatoes
- Red onion
- Extra virgin olive oil
- White wine vinegar or red wine vinegar
- Fresh basil leaves
- Salt and pepper
How to Make a Classic Panzanella Salad
To make this traditional panzanella recipe, start by cutting your stale bread into thick cubes. If you cut them too small they will crumble. Some will naturally do this as you’ll see in my images. This is normal.
Let the stale or day-old bread soak in a bowl filled with ice water for 30 minutes. No, the salad won’t be soggy because we’ll squeeze the water out after it’s done soaking.
Slice the red onion into thin pieces. Any length is fine, I like half moons but even diced would be fine. I like to also soak these in a bowl of ice water as it takes out some of the pungency of the onion. These can soak for 20 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes into large chunks. If you don’t have meaty tomatoes like Romas, cherry tomatoes will work just as well. You can cut the cherry tomatoes in half.
Place in a large bowl.
When the bread is done soaking, squeeze all the water out of it and add it to the bowl with the tomatoes. Drain the onions and add those to the bowl along with the olive oil, white wine vinegar, chopped basil leaves and a dash of salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
For best flavor, let the salad marinate at room temperature for an hour or two.
Variations for a Panzanella Salad
A panzanella salad used whatever the farmers and peasants had on hand. So to say it can only use tomatoes and onions is incorrect. As with many of us, we use what we have on hand.
However, traditionally, the salad is most commonly known for the use of tomatoes and onions as the basic ingredients.
Some other foods you can add to the salad are listed below. Even though it will deviate from the original authentic version, I’m always encouraging my readers to experiment. After all, just like our ancestors from Italy – we don’t want any of our fresh summer vegetables to go to waste!
- Crushed garlic
- Feta or mozzarella cheese
In regards to the vinegar, try using different flavored vinegars like balsamic vinegar or fig vinegar. I often use apple cider vinegar for its health properties.
How to Store Leftovers
To be honest, leftovers for this dish don’t taste as good as fresh. But if you want to try it, and you have any panzanella salad leftover, you can store it in the fridge for up to 2 days. Make sure to store it in an airtight container.
However, keep in mind that the olive oil may harden while in the cold temperature of the refrigerator. So make sure to take it out about 30 minutes or more ahead, so it can warm up to room temperature.
When it has done so, give it a good stir since the oil and vinegar most likely settled at the bottom of the container.
What to Serve with Panzanella
Since panzanella is a traditional Italian peasant salad, you may be wondering what to serve with it. The answer is that you just treat it as you would any other salad.
Try some Italian chicken cutlets alongside your salad.
Since this is a summer salad, why not try some grilled chicken?
Frequently asked Questions
It originates from the central region of Italy.
No, of course not. But it is a great way to use up leftover bread that you can’t use for sandwiches anymore. You can use regular bread. If it’s fresh, I’d recommend toasting it first.
Yes, these two names are often used interchangeably.
Other Simple Salad Recipes
This delicious cannellini bean salad is full of healthy protein and Italian flavors. Perfect for a light lunch, appetizer or side dish.
Do you love chickpeas? Here’s an Italian chickpea salad that uses canned chickpeas for ultimate convenience!
So, if you’re wondering what to do with any old stale white bread… try this authentic Italian panzanella salad recipe. Let me know how you like it and if you made any changes to make it your own!
Here’s a Video and the Recipe Card is Below
- 3 cups stale white bread use whatever you have
- 4 large tomatoes chopped approx. 3 cups
- 1 medium red onion sliced thin
- handful of basil 6-7 leaves
- 4 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
- dash salt/pepper
- Cut the stale bread in thick slices and add into a large bowl filled with ice cold water. Let soak 30 minutes.3 cups stale white bread
- Slice the onion and also soak in ice water to remove pungency. This is optional. Let soak 20 minutes.1 medium red onion sliced thin
- Meanwhile chop the tomatoes and place into a large serving bowl.4 large tomatoes chopped
- When the bread is finished soaking, squeeze each piece to get as much water out as possible then add to the salad.
- Add the olive oil and vinegar to the salad along with the onion, salt and pepper, and basil. Mix well.handful of basil, 4 Tbsp olive oil, 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar, dash salt/pepper
- Top with fresh basil leaves.
- Mix well and try to let sit for an hour or two prior to serving.
- You can use about 6 scallions in place of the red onion.
- Serve in a bright Italian serving bowl which will compliment the red tomatoes.
- You can use red wine vinegar instead of white wine vinegar – either is fine.
- This salad is very flexible so modify it as you see fit by experimenting with other fresh ingredients.