Panzanella - Cucumber, Tomato, and Italian Bread Salad

>> Monday, August 15, 2011

Panzanella is a traditional summer salad in Italy and a thrifty way to use up bread that is getting dry and hard. This fresh and light salad is perfect for the dog days of summer, when you don't feel like cooking and it's too hot to eat something heavy, anyway.

When we honeymooned in Tuscany, the midday sun was fierce and most people observed the very civilized custom of closing everything down for a few hours, lunching and napping, and then going back about their business later in the day. Night was a time for socializing. Everyone turned out on the streets and parks to visit, have a drink, and play games with their kids. Lovely.

This salad was one of the refreshing ones we tried before our midday siestas, and we've made it many times since we came home. One of the most wonderful things about having a backyard garden is that we can go out and pick our own lunch or dinner any day of the week. Now that tomatoes and cucumbers are weighing down our vines, dinner is ready in less time than it would take us to run to the store for produce.


4 cups coarse hard bread, such as ciabbata, baguette, or French loaf
4 plum tomatoes
2 medium cucumbers (we like the seedless ones the best)
1 small red onion
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste


Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes. Immerse in warm water for two minutes, and then allow to drain in a colander. 

Cut the tomatoes and cucumbers into 1-inch pieces. You can peel cukes if you like, but we like the skins on as long as they are not too scarred or dark green and bitter. Peel and cut the onion in half. Thinly slice each half. Place these vegetables and the bread in a serving bowl and toss them until mixed. 

Chop the basil and olives and put them in a small bowl. Pour the olive oil and vinegar into this bowl, along with the salt and pepper. Mix well and pour it over the salad, tossing it well to coat. Serve at room temperature.

If you have leftovers, eat them within the next day or two, before the bread gets mushy and unappealing.

Serves 2-3 as main-dish meals, or 4-6 as side salads.


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