Panzanella Recipe

Authenticity can be a fine line to tread when it comes to cooking. Dishes and recipes originate in certain parts of the world and are often deeply rooted in local traditions. But then people emigrate, they travel, they adopt, they adapt, they improvise, and the same dish gets recreated in a different kitchen at a different time, with the same name but a completely different face.

Naturally, food and recipes are meant to be played with and built upon, and it would be a sad life for our taste buds if no one ever dared look authenticity in the eye and say, “you know what? I think I’ll do this my way”. But however playful and inventive and even irreverent we want to be, I think we owe it to the generations of cooks before us to at least know what we’re doing. Feel free to stray from the authentic path and go do your fun, fusion and quite possibly genius thing in the wilderness, but be aware that you’re doing so and make sure you understand the how and the why.

I love the simplicity of this salad and how the bread soaks up the juices, blending in and softly coating its companion ingredients, making a humble tomato and cucumber salad something more substantial and satisfying.

Granted, following this rule takes quite a bit of effort, research and curiosity, and more often than not it is hard to pinpoint what the authentic recipe exactly is. It can vary from one village to the next, from one family to the next, and even locals get into terrible street fights about whether ratatouille should include eggplant or not.

And we are probably all guilty of the occasional sloppiness, giving in a little too easily to the temptation of naming a dish in a cool and interesting way just because it’s somewhat related to another (“Hey, it’s cut in thin slices! I say it’s a carpaccio!”). We certainly mean no harm or disrespect and most cases could be endlessly argued upon, depending on how conservative or tolerant you want to be, but I believe that a big part of learning to cook is to read up and learn about the history and the culture and the people behind the things you make and eat.

These thoughts were brought about by the fact that I wanted to make panzanella, a Tuscan salad that will gainfully employ good-quality stale bread. While researching recipes, I found an article from 1998 in which the author, appalled by a recipe published in a cooking magazine, explained what was wrong with it (a majority of ingredients that had nothing to do in there, and the unacceptable toasting and cubing of the bread), and went on to share a pared-down version, translated from a Tuscan book, that he considered to be capital-A authentic. This is the recipe I followed, changing a couple of things along the way (sorry, can’t be helped), but trying to stay true to the spirit nonetheless.

The resulting salad was very tasty, unusual, and fun to make. I loved the simplicity of it and how the bread soaked up the juices, blending in and softly coating its companion ingredients, making a humble tomato and cucumber salad something more substantial and satisfying, with which you could simply eat a slice or two of freshly sliced ham and call it a meal.

It is however a most unforgiving salad, one with which you can’t cheat, one that will be exactly as average or sublime as the ingredients you put into it. If your tomatoes are rock-hard, your olive oil tasteless and your bread substandard, well, this salad won’t do anything for you. And I suspect that this is why most recipes feel the urge to add in something — anything — to jazz it up, be it anchovies, garlic, capers, eggplant, peppers, olives, mozzarella or all of the above, making it a delicious salad without a doubt but not, apparently, the real McCoy of panzanella.

Panzanella Recipe

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Serves 4.

Panzanella Recipe

Ingredients

  • 200 grams (6 ounces) stale country bread, cut in thick cubes
  • 10 small, ripe, and juicy tomatoes (or 6 medium or 4 large), cut into wedges
  • 1/2 of a large cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 2 small sweet red onions (the original recipe calls for cipolliti rossi dolci), thinly sliced
  • a small bunch of fresh basil (about 15 stems)
  • 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • fine sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper

Instructions

  1. Place the bread in a large salad bowl, add the tomatoes, and stir to combine.
  2. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes, as the bread absorbs the juices from the tomatoes and softens.
  3. Pluck the basil leaves and tear them into bits. Add the cucumbers, onions, and basil to the bowl, season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. Toss gently to mix, preferably with your hands.
  4. Refrigerate until ready to serve. At the last minute, add in the vinegar, taste and adjust the seasoning.
http://chocolateandzucchini.com/recipes/salads/panzanella-recipe/

  • http://www.thefoodpalate.com saffron

    It is always important to refer back to traditions and history of any cuisine and also educate oneself if unsure. I think you always do a fabulous job in researching your dishes – and it shows.

    The salad looks fabulous – i love dishes which are a hearty meal in itself without overload.

  • http://princessdominique.blogspot.com Princess Dominique

    I love food way to much to be on this page. Don’t get me wrong, I love the page, the layout is gorgeous. I’ll just have to come back when I’m not as hungry.

  • Rainey

    Yes, yes, yes, clotilde! It’s an important thing to know and respect the authentic. On the other hand, it’s next to impossible not to improvise around the classic when enthusiasm kicks in. What’s authenticity with individuality? But if you’ve got more “fusion” than “authentico” then you might as well give it a name that’s as original as the creation!

    My own panzanella includes thinly sliced fennel because Mario Batalli told me it should. And I do not soften my bread with water because I want it to sop up as much of the tomato juices and balsamic vinaigrette as possible.

    I’ve been waiting for the tomatoes on my vines to ripen so I can start having the luscious things of Summer like panzanella and ratatouille. Speaking of which, have you encountered a tomato called Noire Charbonneuse? I had my first one last week and it has become my favorite tomato of all time and space!!!

  • Ed Donovan

    Clotilde-

    If I could suggest one twist that may not sacrifice the cherished “authenticity”? Cut your tomato wedges first, lightly salt them, then put in a strainer over a bowl. Use the resulting “tomato water” in place of boring old H2O.

  • Rainey

    Tomato “water” is an important contribution of Thomas Keller of the [i]French Laundry[/i] in NoCal. I think he might love your suggestion and it sounds good to me!

  • Macky

    The salad looks delicious! An ex-boyfriend who was Italian use to make this salad for lunch. It was simple yet full of flavor. Although his looked watery from the juicy tomatoes and he used a clove of raw garlic rubbed all around the serving bowl and salt, that was it. It was very good.

  • http://www.movable-feast.com Louisa

    Where can I find one of those terrible ratatouille street fights? ;)

  • i Neat & Pearl

    hi…ur site is one of the best of best!! i’m always wondering…which digital camera do you use? merci!

  • http://www.deliciousdays.com Nicky

    Hi Clothilde,
    Thanks for the background info on this yummy dish. Like you said there are many panzanella variations out there, the original version with soaked bread is one I unfortunately don’t like as much – because of the soaked bread ;)

    The way I usually make it is probably far off from the real panzanella. But it still feels >very Italian< preparing what we just call Brotsalat (bread-salad), the fried and spiced, crisp bread cubes added last.

  • http://blog.yahoo.co.jp/sachi562002 Sachi

    I really like your BLOG. Even in Japan, your blog makes me sweet. Recently I’ve started write my blog on my favorite sweets and food as well. Of course it’s not enough of yours…

    Well, I’ll visit Paris and Provence during summer holidays. My schedule includes lots of your shops. If you have more information @ Paris, please let me know. Thank you for your nice blog.

  • Melinda

    just the thing to make with all of my tomaotes and basil that are filling my garden right now… thanks! i love this site!

  • http://noshesthoughtsreves.blogspot.com Lady Amalthea

    I agree with you that you must stay true, or at least acknowledge what you’re basing a dish on. At the same time, everything must be allowed to evolve. My family emigrated to the States from Russia, bringing with them all their old recipes which, for the most part, now seem bland. They were poor in Europe and didn’t have as many ingredients as they found once in New York. After living here, their recipes changed, taking into account their new surroundings and opportunities. Like everything else, if dishes don’t evolve, we will lose our taste for them.

  • http://www.divinacucina.blogspot.com Diva

    Congrats on the REAL panzanella!
    I live in Tuscany and understand how it is hard to find the correct ingredients to actually have your bread get stale!
    but fried bread cubes do not panzanella make!

    Here in Florence it is popular now to make a Tuscan Taboullah, using couscous instead of the bread, and mint instead of basil.
    Nice Twist!
    Love your site!

  • libraryhead

    This is very close to what I make, cucumber optional, spot on until the last para: you *never* want to refrigerate tomatoes. They will lose their room-temperature tomatoey succulance and turn into tasteless cotton. Even good, homegrown ones can be ruined by chilling.

  • michael

    try good balsamic instead of wine vinegar…takes it to a whole new dimension…cool site by the way!

  • http://incurable-hippie.blogspot.com hippie

    I *adore* this post! You said it all so well – so clearly, wonderfully, tastily :)

  • http://gourmetatsix.blogspot.com Mike

    clotilde: this site is amazing.

  • Steve

    I’ve been experimenting with panzanella this year. I’ve decided that I like to cube the bread – rather large – and make soft croutons from it, instead of wetting it. I saute them in olive oil, salt, maybe a few herbs.

  • Rudy Bellani

    I was wondering where I could find and/or buy the plate -and it’s matching collection- that is shown here? Any information would be perfect!
    Thank you sooo much,
    Rudy

  • Gwen

    I only tried the recipe yesterday, since I had all the ingredients available. I must admit that I was apprehensive, expecting the bread to be soggy. I followed someone’s comment and soaked the bread in the tomatoes juice instead of water. Not only is it much better (I left one piece of bread in water, to compare), but I also like the idea that it makes it a 100% wasteless recipe (except maybe for the basil stems). I liked it very much, the bread is not soggy but just moist.
    However, this is really just a recipe for days when you have stale bread that you don’t want to throw away, or you feel like making a single course meal. For when you have such good tomatoes and cucmbers and basil, they are perfectly happy and charming on their own, without bread. I mean it’s good, but not better than the same tomato salad without the bread and it wouldn’t cross my mind to seek stale bread to make this dish.
    I like the fact that it prevents wasting food though.

  • Karen

    I just made, as is, only in a small amount, because I had some rock hard artisan bread and one fresh homegrown tomato. Wow. Delicious. If I didn’t have as good a tomato I can see why you might need some other spice but with a home grown tomato fantastic.

  • vea

    Wonderful recipe, it reminds me of the main Spanish gazpacho ingredients, sans the ham, which takes a lot of variations depemding on the region.

  • Noémie Grenon

    J’apprécierais avoir accès à ces recettes en français. Est-ce possible?

    merci de me répondre,

    Noémie

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Noémie – Les recettes publiées ici avant septembre 2007 ne sont disponible qu’en anglais. Je ne suis pas en mesure de traduire ces archives, mais vous pouvez obtenir une traduction approximative avec des outils de traduction comme celui de Google.

  • http://www.londonfoodieny.com Anna

    I totally agree that some of the best recipes are the traditional ones- and I love reading about the culture and history behind it. BUT I do find it SO hard to follow recipes- any recipes! I’m one of those cooks who opens the fridge in the middle of looking for one thing and end up pulling out three more things thinking “ooo that would be good with this!” It’s like a disease, I tell you!

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