One of my favorite summer restaurant meals is Panzanella: an Italian bread and tomato salad bursting with fresh, in-season summer tomato flavor. With my bounty of tomatoes coming in, I thought it was high time I start making my own version of this to enjoy at home.
I based my recipe loosely on an America’s Test Kitchen version, but use the proportions below as a loose guide: feel free to use a little more or a little less of each ingredient depending on what you have more of on hand or which ingredients you love more than others. Just be sure to use super fresh, in-season tomatoes.
For the bread:
4 to 8 ounces rustic Italian or French bread, cut or torn into 1-inch cubes (about 3-4 cups of bread cubes)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
For the salad:
1 pound fresh, ripe tomatoes (any variety or a combination of varieties)
½ teaspoon salt
1 small red onion, sliced (about ½ cup sliced)
1 medium cucumber (about 6 ounces, or 1 cup diced)
2-3 tablespoons chopped or thinly sliced basil
Salt and pepper
For the vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
For the bread:
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and smashed garlic cloves over medium-low heat until the garlic is sizzling and lightly browned (about 5 minutes), then discard the browned garlic. Add the bread cubes to the oil and stir well to coat as evenly as possible. Increase heat to medium and toast the bread until light golden (5 to 10 minutes), stirring halfway through. Set toasted bread aside and allow to cool to room temperature.
(Alternatively, toast the bread cubes in the oven: Toss bread cubes with olive oil and arrange in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Toast bread pieces at 400 degrees F until just starting to turn light golden, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring halfway through.)
For the salad:
Core the tomatoes and cut them in half, across the equator. Gently squeeze the seeds from each piece into a large bowl (or discard). Dice tomatoes into 1-inch pieces, sprinkle them with the salt and transfer them to a colander placed over the large bowl with the seeds. Gently stir to mix.
Allow tomatoes to drain for 15-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Dice the cucumber into ½-inch pieces, slice the red onion into thin strips, and chop (or thinly slice) the basil.
For the vinaigrette:
Combine the vinaigrette ingredients in a small, lidded jar. Secure the lid and shake vigorously to combine.
Assemble the salad:
Shake the vinaigrette again to blend and pour it into the bowl with the reserved tomato juices; whisk the mixture well. Add the toasted, cooled bread pieces, toss to coat, and let stand for 5-10 minutes until moistened but not soggy, tossing occasionally.
Add the tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion and basil to the bowl of soaked bread pieces and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately. Enjoy!
Step by Step Details
Look at these colors! Note: these ingredients were for a half-recipe of the salad…perfect for a small meal for one.
For the bread: Browning the garlic in olive oil is kind of an optional step, but it really adds some nice flavors to the finished salad. Brown the smashed cloves over medium-low heat. (My rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon olive oil plus 1 smashed clove of garlic per every 1 cup of bread cubes. I use these as croutons in my gazpacho, too!)
While the garlic is sizzling and filling your kitchen with incredible aromas, cut or tear the bread into cubes.
Remove the browned garlic (or save for another use) and add the bread cubes to the oil. Stir well to coat as evenly as possible and toast the cubes, stirring occasionally, until light golden (5 to 10 minutes).
For the salad: Adding the tomato seeds and juices to the dressing really boosts the fresh tomato flavor of the salad. Cut tomatoes in half, across the equator, and gently squeeze out the seeds into a large bowl. (If you’re not a fan of seeds or more tomato flavor, just discard them).
Dice the tomatoes and sprinkle the salt over them.
Place a colander over the same large bowl you just put the seeds in, and add the tomatoes to the colander. Gently stir to mix, and allow them to drain for 15-30 minutes.
Meanwhile, dice the cucumber into ½-inch pieces, slice the red onion into thin strips, and chop (or thinly slice) the basil. I guess I didn’t get any photos of that step.
For the vinaigrette: Combine the vinaigrette ingredients in a small jar, secure the lid and shake vigorously to combine. That little dollop of Dijon mustard is what magically holds it all together.
Assemble the salad: Shake the vinaigrette again to blend and pour into the bowl with the reserved tomato juices; whisk the mixture well. Add the toasted, cooled bread pieces and toss to coat.
Let stand for 5-10 minutes until moistened but not soggy, tossing occasionally. The length of time will vary depending on the density of your bread.
Add the tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion and basil to the bowl of soaked bread pieces and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately with a side of sunshine!