Panzanella! A colorful name for a strong summertime salad. Panzanella is Italy’s delightful solution for surplus tomatoes and stale bread.
This panzanella salad is my spin on the original. It combines ripe tomatoes, crunchy handmade croutons, fresh cucumber and basil, and mozzarella under a simple, zesty vinaigrette. It’s a study in textures and refreshing Italian flavors.
I’m in love with this panzanella salad dish and think you will be, too. It avoids all of the potential panzanella issues. Some panzanellas are mushy, bland or watery—not this one.
This panzanella salad takes use of petite tomatoes, which are less liquid and less likely to be mushy. It’s prepared on a huge plate in layers, which is important to its attractive appearance. You determine how long to let the salad sit before serving—the croutons soften up over time, in the finest manner.
Great tomatoes are extremely necessary, so hurry and make this panzanella while you still can!
Authentic Panzanella vs. This Recipe
My recipe differs significantly from truly authentic panzanella. Florentine panzanella makes use of stale bread by soaking it in water and wringing it out. Then, it readily soaks up the tomato juice, olive oil and vinegar.
My recipe is more like the panzanella you’ll find on American menus. Since I’m a sucker for crunchy homemade croutons, I elected to make stale bread into hearty croutons instead.
The oil on the outside helps the resist tomato juice, but as the salad sets, certain croutons will undoubtedly start absorbing some. I adore the juxtaposition of the crisp edges with a soft, pillowy, tomato-y side.
Classic panzanella is also cooked with a more pared down ingredient list, although mine truly isn’t very long. You may or may not find cucumber, mozzarella, olives and/or capers, dried oregano and garlic in Italian panzanella, but they’re so tasty!
Here’s what you’ll need to prepare this panzanella recipe:
You’ll only need one-fourth of a loaf, so this really is the perfect use for stale leftover bread. Use ciabatta, sourdough or French bread. You can use whole grain if you’d like. I would have, if I could have located it!
Tomatoes \sYou can’t create a decent panzanella without great tomatoes. I highly recommend using cherry tomatoes and other smaller tomatoes to prepare panzanella.
Large tomatoes can be so soft and juicy that they entirely break down when sprinkled with salt. We want our salad to be a touch juicy, but still substantial, so smaller tomatoes are crucial.
Crisp cucumber is a delicious accent. Persian (mini) cucumbers are my fave. You can also use a normal cucumber—if it’s very seedy, split it in half and scoop out the seeds first.
Mozzarella \sMozzarella is optional, but gives a rich, creamy component. Buy one ball of fresh mozzarella and shred it into small pieces, or opt for lovely little mozzarella balls like I did.
Basil makes this salad so fresh and green! Don’t skip it.
Red onion is common, and gives some sharp, pungent heat. I softened the onion’s harshness by tossing it in the homemade vinaigrette and chilling it while working on the rest of the salad. The outcome is softly pickled, lightly softened red onion—irresistible.
Kalamata olives and/or capers
Use your favorite or both. If you don’t like either, omit them completely! I loved the briny, salty blend of the two. We’re only using two teaspoons altogether, so it’s a minor effect.
Olive oil & red wine vinegar
We’ll sprinkle the bread with olive oil before baking so it gets extra crisp and golden. Then, we’ll whisk together some additional olive oil with vinegar to form a vinaigrette. The vinaigrette is purposely zesty, since we’ve already used olive oil to make the croutons and the tomato juice mellows out the flavor.
Garlic, salt, pepper & dried oregano
This salad isn’t complete without some typical Italian flavors. Don’t skimp on the freshly ground black pepper and oregano—panzanella can handle it.
- 4 ounces ciabatta or crusty sourdough bread, preferably stale (¼th of a regular 1-pound loaf or 3 cups cubed)
- Olive oil, extra virgin, two tablespoons
- 14 teaspoon of sea salt, fine
- Olive oil, extra virgin, two tablespoons
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano, plus additional for garnish
- 1 big clove garlic
- 12 teaspoon of sea salt, fine
- black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
- ½ small red onion, finely sliced
- 1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large \s1 pound more tomatoes (smaller tomatoes are best), sliced into bite-sized pieces
- 2 mini cucumbers or 1 small cucumber, finely sliced into rounds
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, optional (purchase small mozzarella balls or tear a larger amount into bite-sized pieces) (buy small mozzarella balls or tear a larger ball into bite-sized pieces)
- ⅓ cup roughly chopped fresh basil (approximately ½ ounce)
- 2 tablespoons (total) (total) thinly sliced Kalamata olives and/or capers
- To prepare the croutons: Set the oven’s temperature to 425 degrees. If preferred, line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper for easier clean-up.
- Slice your bread* into 1-inch pieces (no larger) and set them on the baking sheet. Drizzle the cubes with the olive oil, sprinkle them with the salt, and toss until fully combined. Bake until thoroughly golden, about 7 to 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare your salad dressing: In a bowl, add the olive oil, vinegar, oregano, garlic, salt, and a good quantity of black pepper. Whisk until mixed.
- We’re going to add the onion to mellow its flavor and mildly pickle it—first, cut the sliced onion along the middle to make the pieces more manageable. Then, mix the onions into the dressing. Place the bowl in the refrigerator while you construct the salad.
- To prepare the salad: Transfer the prepared tomatoes to a large serving plate. Nestle approximately half of the croutons in between the tomatoes, then distribute the rest on top. Place the cucumber rounds and mozzarella all over the salad.
- Use a fork or your hands to sprinkle the mildly pickled onions all over. Give the leftover dressing a swirl and sprinkle it over the salad. Sprinkle the basil and olives and/or capers on top, followed by a thin sprinkle of additional black pepper and dried oregano. Ideally, let the salad marinade for 20 minutes (or up to 1 hour) before serving.
\s*STALE BREAD NOTE: If your bread is exceptionally mushy inside and tough to cut, bake it on the baking sheet dry for 3 to 5 minutes. Then, cube it, sprinkle it in olive oil and bake as suggested.
MAKE IT VEGAN OR DAIRY FREE: Simply eliminate the mozzarella or replace it with cooked chickpeas (as much as one 15-ounce can, rinsed and drained, or 1 ½ cups cooked).
CHANGE IT UP: If you hate olives and capers, leave them out. Add a diced bell pepper to the mix if you’d like some added sharpness. See above for how to use chickpeas instead of mozzarella.
STORAGE SUGGESTIONS: This salad does not keep particularly well for later because the croutons will continue to soak dressing over time and turn to mush. If you plan on having leftovers, reserve the croutons for later.