Sun-kissed tomatoes and a crusty baguette pair up for some magic in this simple Panzanella Salad. It's quick, easy, and packed with Italian inspired flavor - like summer in every bite!
We've just returned from a family vacation in Italy's Amalfi Coast. And while we thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful scenery and rich history, what I can't stop thinking about is the food. So I decided to try my hand at a traditional Italian side dish - Panzanella salad!
Panzanella is a classic bread salad, popularized in Tuscany. The traditional version was a peasant dish made from crusty stale bread, loads of tomatoes, and a simple vinaigrette dressing. It was a fantastic way for folks to use up slightly stale bread and an abundance of tomatoes from the garden.
My modernized version uses freshly toasted bread, which gives you all the crunch of the original with much better flavor! And I've spruced up the vinaigrette dressing with some tasty additions like lemon juice and plenty of fresh herbs. But I think my Italian ancestors would approve.
What bread should I use for panzanella? Use bread with a crunchy crust and a softer center, like a baguette or ciabatta. The soft bread in the center is perfect for soaking up all the tomato juices and the crunchy crust helps the bread hold it's shape and texture.
Should I toast the bread for the panzanella? Yes! While traditional panzanella is made with slightly stale bread, you're probably using a fresh baguette, right? Toasting gives it that little bit of crunch that helps it hold up when soaked in the vinaigrette and tomato juices.
What type of tomatoes are best for panzanella? Any kind you want! Peasant dishes like panzanella were created to use up the leftover harvest, so there is no right or wrong tomato for this dish. I personally like to use a mixture of Roma tomatoes and cherry tomatoes. Be sure they are very ripe for the best results!
Why do you salt the tomatoes for panzanella? Salting the tomatoes helps to draw out all those delicious tomato juices, which you can use to make a delicious vinaigrette. Do not skip this step!
What can I serve with Panzanella? This panzanella salad is hearty enough to eat on its own for a lighter meal. Or serve it up with a green salad, your favorite vegetarian pasta, a bowl of tomato soup, or as a side for a veggie burger.
Can I store leftover Panzanella salad? Technically, yes. You can store leftovers in the refrigerator in a covered container for 1-2 days. However, it does tend to get soggy as the bread continues to soak up the juices. So I strongly recommend eating panzanella on the day it is prepared.
Helpful Tips & Variations
Salt the tomatoes in a colander. Salting the tomatoes is a key step, as it helps draw out all the delicious tomato juices, which you will use in the dressing. I recommend doing this step in a colander, and then placing the colander over top of a bowl to catch the juices as they run out. This is the least messy method - trust me!
Add cheese. Everything taste better with cheese, right? Try adding some fresh mozzarella cubes or a sprinkle of crumbled feta or goat cheese for a new take on this classic recipe.
Add some color. You can use any variety of tomatoes for this recipe, and that includes colorful ones! Use a variety of colorful heirloom tomatoes for an Instagram worthy side dish.
Mix up the herbs. You can use any fresh herbs that you prefer in your panzanella. Basil is a classic choice. But oregano, mint, thyme, chives, and dill are all tasty options!
Add more veggies. Panzanella is a great way to use up leftover veggies from the fridge. Toss in some diced cucumbers, chopped bell peppers, black olives, capers, or roasted zucchini for a healthy side. You can even add fresh fruit such as peaches or berries.
Add protein. Add some vegetarian friendly protein with chickpeas or cannellini beans!
More Tasty Ideas
If you love this Panzanella Salad, be sure to check out these other delicious ideas:
- Italian Style Spaghetti Squash Fritters
- 15 Vegetarian One Pot Pasta Recipes
- Tasty Homemade Pasta Sauce Recipes
- mixing bowls
- 2 lbs tomatoes such as cherry and Roma tomatoes, very ripe
- 2 tsp salt
- 16 oz baguette or any crusty bread
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
- juice of 1 lemon roughly 3 tbsp
- ¼ cup olive oil plus 2 tbsp
- ⅛ tsp Black Pepper
- ½ red onion thinly sliced
- ½ cup chopped fresh herbs such as basil, oregano and mint
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahreneheit.
- Roughly chop tomatoes into bite sized pieces. Place the tomatoes in a colander, and set the colander over top of a bowl. The bowl will catch the tomato juice as it drains from the tomatoes. Add the salt to the tomatoes and toss to coat. Set aside for 15 minutes, tossing the tomatoes every five minutes. DO NOT DISCARD THE TOMATO JUICE!
- Cut the baguette into bite sized pieces and spread them on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tbsp of olive oil (or spray with olive oil cooking spray) and toss to coat. Bake the bread for 10-12 minutes, until it begins to get crunchy.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the tomato juice, olive oil, Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, and black pepper to make the vinaigrette.
- In a very large bowl, add the bread, chopped tomatoes, sliced red onions, vinaigrette, and fresh herbs. Toss everything together to combine.
- Allow the panzanella to sit for 20-30 minutes so the bread can absorb all the dressing and flavors. Serve chilled or at room temperature.