Close up from above of white plate with fresh panzanella salad.
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Authentic Panzanella Recipe From Tuscany (Tomato And Bread Salad)

Last updated on June 13th, 2024

Authentic panzanella (tomato and bread salad) is an easy, no-fuss meal that can be made on hot summer days or when you seemingly have an empty refrigerator. 

This Tuscan panzanella recipe is a staple in our household when tomatoes are in season and it’s simply too hot to do any type of cooking. Cool and refreshing, panzanella is a rustic salad that comes together in 20 minutes, using nothing but stale bread and summer fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and onion. 

Great for picnics, warm days and busy moms, this panzanella recipe is an easy crowd pleaser. Tailor it to what you have, using whatever stale bread, variety of onion or tomato, adding in any extra arugula or herbs you like. And most importantly, you don’t need to spend time over the stovetop!

How To Pronounce Panzanella

Panzanella is pronounced pahn-zah-nehl-lah in Italian.

Listen to the pronunciation of panzanella:

What Is Panzanella?  

Panzanella salad in a greyish-blue serving bowl with handles. It's sitting on a white marble surface. You can see bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, and basil in the salad.

Authentic panzanella is a bread and tomato salad made from rehydrated stale bread, ripe, juicy  tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, basil and seasoned with plenty of salt and olive oil. 

Panzanella is a Tuscan salad that is made only when summer tomatoes are in season. It cannot be made with canned tomatoes or under ripe tomatoes as the fresh tomato juice is key to this recipe. 

Fact: Panzanella is a vegan recipe! 

History Of Panzanella

close up side view of several loaves of tuscan bread stacked up at a market to be sold

The origins of panzanella are rooted in the cucina povera, the poor man’s cooking, referring to the tradition of cooking hearty food based on local, seasonal ingredients without wasting even a single crumb of bread.

In this case, that is exactly what panzanella is: the repurposing of old, stale bread. Bread has also been an important ingredient in the Italian diet and thus, Italians from across the peninsula have developed various recipes over time with leftover bread.

Panzanella originally started as a simple bread salad, dressed in olive oil and literally whatever vegetables or ingredients were available at that time of year, usually just onion. After the tomato was introduced to Europe from America, it became a pillar ingredient in any  panzanella recipe.

Today, there are hundreds of recipes for panzanella but the most authentic and traditional ones are still made as they once were with day-old bread. You can certainly make panzanella by toasting or roasting the bread but here in Italy, I can assure no you Italian is making their panzanella in this way! 

Old traditions die hard in Italy and the panzanella recipe and method is no exception!

Panzanella Ingredients

Bread For Panzanella

Close up of Tuscan bread sliced thickly. You can see the air bubbles and pockets. It's sitting on a white marble surface.

You can really use any bread you like in this panzanella recipe. In Tuscany we use the local bread, pane toscano but the absolute best panzanella salad will be made with the best bread possible.

Favorites are French loaves, ciabatta, sourdough loaves with a nice, hearty crust and pillowy center. 

Many variations of panzanella ask you to toast the bread but that is not how we make it here in Italy. The whole idea behind a panzanella recipe is to use what you have, in this case, leftover bread. No need to go out and buy fresh bread. To recreate the most authentic panzanella just as the Italians enjoy it, use what you have leftover.

Leftover bread is ideal for soaking up the juices of summer ripe tomatoes,  absorbing all the flavor of good extra virgin olive oil and showcasing all the best flavors of summer.

Olive Oil For Panzanella

top view of several bottles of olive oil freshly bottled with bright green oil and green tops in a red case

Extra virgin olive oil is best for any panzanella recipe, if possible. This bread salad is all about the fresh tomatoes and the olive oil. If you use mediocre olive oil, your panzanella will consequently be mediocre as well. 

It can be hard to choose the right olive oil, especially on a budget. Read 15 Best Italian Olive Oils – To Enjoy in Italy & Bring Home as a Souvenir and Best Italian Olive Oil Brands in America – Where to Buy Them and How to Store Them for our suggestions. 

Tomatoes For Panzanella

Pile of fresh summer tomatoes on a marble surface.

You can’t make a panzanella recipe without good tomatoes. Panzanella is a seasonal, summer recipe. Choose only the ripest and juiciest tomatoes you can find, no matter the variety.

My family prefers Brandywine and all other varieties of beefsteak tomatoes. We prefer larger tomatoes as opposed to smaller varieties or cherry tomatoes because they have more juice. 

Other Ingredients For Panzanella 

Close up of bunch of basil leaves.
  • Red onion
  • Cucumber
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Salt
  • Basil

How To Make Panzanella

Strainer holding slices of fresh bread. You can see hand in lower left holding the handle of the strainer.

If you like, remove the crusts from the bread (I prefer to leave them on) and the cut bread into ½ inch slices. Put them in a sieve and pass them quickly under running water. Let the bread sit in the sieve while you prepare the other ingredients.

slices of onion in a white bowl

Thinly slice the red onion, place in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons of the red wine vinegar and cover with water. Set aside.

Chopped fresh tomatoes in a pile on white marble surface.

Roughly chop your tomatoes into large chunks, about ½-¾ inch pieces and place in a large bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and the olive oil and mix. Peel the cucumber, cut it in half crosswise and slice into thin pieces. Add to the tomatoes.

White bowl with freshly sliced onion and chopped tomatoes and cucumbers. Seen from above, sitting on white marble surface.

Drain the onions and add to the tomatoes and cucumbers. Add the olive oil and the remaining 2 tablespoons of vinegar and test for salt. 

White bowl full of fresh panzanella - an Italian bread salad. It's sitting on a white marble surface.

At this point the bread should have come back to life and feel moist and springy. Squeeze out any excel liquid (if any) and rear into pieces about the same size as your tomato chunks. Add to the vegetables. Toss well, adding an extra drizzle of olive oil if it seems dry. 

Hand holding chopped basil.

Either chiffonade the basil or tear it directly into the salad right before serving. 

Panzanella Recipe Substitutions

  • Use any kind of tomatoes you like, including cherry (half or quarter them).
  • If you like a bit of spice, consider not marinating your onions in the red wine vinegar before assembling. This will keep the onions spicy and more crisp. 
  • Add a handful of arugula or baby greens to your panzanella recipe along with the basil right before serving. 

How To Serve Panzanella

Close up of grey bowl filled with fresh basil sprig and two balls of fresh mozzarella. Bowl is sitting on white marble surface.

In Italy, panzanella is served as a first course, typically followed by some form of protein. It’s great on its own and because there is no mayonnaise or other dairy, it withstands hours without refrigeration. 

To make it a complete meal, serve with cheese such as mozzarella or cured meats such as prosciutto and melon, on the side. 

Panzanella can get soggy after some time so it doesn’t do well sitting for more than a day. It’s great for picnics but should not be kept out all day. 

Notes and Tips For Making Panzanella 

Close up of two white plates and a blue serving dish full of fresh panzanella salad. They're all sitting on a white marble surface.
  • Be sure to remove any excess liquid in your bread before assembling your panzanella salad. You do not want it to be soggy but rather, the bread should be springy. 
  • If the salad is dry, don’t be afraid to add more olive oil. This will depend on how juicy your tomatoes are and the type of bread you choose.
  • Use baby cucumbers instead of one large whole cucumber.
  • Add any variety of onion you like. I like red because it adds a bit of color. 

If you love Italian salads, try making:
Caprese Salad
Fennel and Orange Salad
Kale Salad with Gorgonzola
Lentil Salad with Roasted Vegetables
Panzanella
Spring Farro Salad
Tuna Salad (Mayo-Free)
Tuscan Bean Salad

Close up from above of white plate with fresh panzanella salad.

Panzanella

Authentic panzanella recipe, straight from Tuscany.
No ratings yet
Prep Time 20 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Course Appetizer, Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4 people

Ingredients
  

  • 9 oz stale country-style white bread
  • ½ red onion
  • 1 large cucumber
  • 1 lb vine ripe tomatoes
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 15-20 basil leaves
  • salt

Instructions
 

  • If you like, remove the crusts from the bread (I prefer to leave them on) and the cut bread into ½ inch slices. Put them in a sieve and pass them quickly under running water. Let the bread sit in the sieve while you prepare the other ingredients.
  • Thinly slice the red onion, place in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons of the red wine vinegar and cover with water. Set aside.
  • Roughly chop your tomatoes into large chunks, about ½-¾ inch pieces and place in a large bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and the olive oil and mix. Peel the cucumber, cut it in half crosswise and slice into thin pieces. Add to the tomatoes.
  • Drain the onions and add to the tomatoes and cucumbers. Add the olive oil and the remaining 2 tablespoons of vinegar and test for salt.
  • At this point the bread should have come back to life and feel moist and springy. Squeeze out any excel liquid (if any) and rear into pieces about the same size as your tomato chunks. Add to the vegetables. Toss well, adding an extra drizzle of olive oil if it seems dry.
  • Either chiffonade the basil or tear it directly into the salad right before serving.

Notes

  • Be sure to remove any excess liquid in your bread before assembling your panzanella salad. You do not want it to be soggy but rather, the bread should be springy. 
  • If the salad is dry, don’t be afraid to add more olive oil. This will depend on how juicy your tomatoes are and the type of bread you choose.
  • Use baby cucumbers instead of one large whole cucumber.
  • Add any variety of onion you like. I like red because it adds a bit of color.
Keyword authentic, easy, fresh, quick, summer
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Panzanella Recipe FAQ

What type of salad is panzanella?

Panzanella is a traditional Tuscan salad made from stale bread, tomatoes, onion, cucumber, basil and olive oil. It was developed as a way to use leftover bread, dating back to the Middle Ages. 

What do you eat with panzanella?

Panzanella pairs well with other cold foods such as cold cuts and cheeses. Consider mozzarella, prosciutto and melon or even use it as a side dish to grilled meats and fish during the summer. 

How to store panzanella?

Panzanella salad can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container but should be eaten the next day. This is because the bread in this salad is already being repurposed and can get overly soggy the longer it sits.

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