Panzanella salad, summer’s last hurrah


Morning fog is creeping in every morning and staying later each day here, a sure sign that summer is departing soon.  David and I went up to the garden yesterday to get some tomatoes.  We had a late start this season for our tomato plants, and Cynthia said we’d have plenty of tomatoes well into October.  So perhaps this is not quite the last hurrah for us, but it might be for a lot of you.  I thought I’d do a classic salad, one of my favorite things to do when I have ripe, juicy tomatoes and some stale bread around.

No, no, this isn’t my usual pan con tomate.  We’re not in Spain tonight, we’re just a bit over to the East in Italy.  Panzanella, the Italian tomato and bread salad, is just as simple as the Spanish pan con tomate, and every bit as good.  Stale bread, juicy tomatoes, fragrant basil, tossed together with a simple vinaigrette, it can hardly get much simpler.

Just because it is simple to make doesn’t mean there isn’t a trick or two to it. Tossing tough stale bread and delicate tomatoes too roughly can result in a pile of bread colored by red mush.  It still taste good, I’m sure, but it won’t look very pretty.  What I do is make a dressing, dress the tomatoes first, getting the juices running and mingling with the vinaigrette for a couple minutes, then pour that juicy, delicious elixir over the bread cubes (in a separate bowl), leaving the tomato pieces out for the moment.  I let the bread and tomato juice soak for five minutes, then toss everything together, adding the basil right at the very end.  This way, my salad is just as pretty as it is delicious.  Every time.

Panzanella salad

serves 2 hungry people or 4-6 as part of a larger meal
4 large heirloom tomatoes (about 1,200g or 2.5lbs)
3 thick slices of crusty bread cut into cubes (about 150g or 5oz)
a handful of basil (I used purple basil and tiny greek basil for mine.)


I feel funny giving a recipe for this.  To me, making a vinaigrette is something so personal, no two people will make them the same way.  Plus, the components of vinaigrette, olive oil, vinegar, even salt, don’t taste the same from one brand or producer to another.  I guess I’ll just tell you roughly how I do mine for the panzanella, and you can follow it or just make your own favorite vinaigrette. 

I usually put mustard in my vinegar, and a smidgen of light honey to keep it in check.  I don’t in this one, however.  I find that the mustard makes it just a bit too astringent for this purpose.  I also use more vinegar in my panzanella vinaigrette than in my usual one, as it needs to add flavor to the bland bread.

5 T vinegar (I like a combination of sherry vinegar and red wine vinegar.)

8 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
a drop of honey

In a bowl large enough to toss everything together, add the vinegar, a pinch of salt, and a drop of honey.  Use the back of a wooden spoon to mix well, taste it to see if it needs a bit more salt.  Add the oil and stir to mix again.  Cut the tomatoes into wedges and add to the bowl with the vinaigrette.  Toss to mix and let sit for 2-3 minutes, tossing once or twice more during that time.

Meanwhile, cut the stale bread into cubes.  Take a bowl pretty enough to serve the salad in and throw the bread in it.  When the tomatoes in vinaigrette are ready, you should see lots of delicious juices in the tomato-vinaigrette bowl, pour the juices over the bread cubes in the pretty bowl.  Toss the bread gently to coat with the juice.  Let sit for about five minutes.

When you’re ready to serve, pour the bread cubes back into the tomato bowl, toss well.  Tear basil leaves and toss well with the bread and tomatoes (save a few pretty leaves for garnish).  Add a few turns of the peppermill and toss again to mix.  Taste the salad, add more salt or vinegar as needed.  Give the pretty serving bowl a quick wipe, then pour the salad into it.  Top with the rest of the basil, I also like to pour fresh olive oil over the whole thing, just lightly, only to add some freshness to it.  There you have it, panzanella salad, delicous and gorgeous to boot.

David and I drank ’04 J.L. Chave’s Saint Joseph with our dinner last night.  Basically because we just bought like a case of that wine.  It went perfectly well with it, actually.  I’m sure a lovely rose to toast the departing summer will do just fine too.

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23 Responses to “Panzanella salad, summer’s last hurrah

  • Single Guy Chef said:
    September 10th, 2008 at 1:16pm

    Simply beautiful! 😉 This does sound really simple to make and the photo is amazing as usual. It must also be fun using all the fresh ingredients from Italy.

  • mary-anne said:
    September 10th, 2008 at 1:30pm

    Love Heirloom tomatoes with the taste of the sun We’re heading into the real bounty-time of tomato growing out here in Alamo. In a couple of weeks the prolific heirlooms will treat us to more than their 20# to 30# a week. Cannng time is almost here.
    We’re heading to the annual and amazing Carmel Tomato Fest under the Tomato-Love of Gary Ibsen. This is a special fest as it is Gary’s retirement party.
    BTW Cynthia grows some of the tomatoes for Gary as well as for Chef Kinch.
    Hope-fully some other Tomato Maniac will assume his role of bringing great chefs, wineries and simply a delight to the senses a bounty of heirloom tomatoes-all for charity.
    Tickets are still available-are you attending Pim?
    In Tomato-Love,

  • food librarian said:
    September 10th, 2008 at 1:47pm

    What a lovely salad! I too am trying to celebrate the last bit of summer fruits and veggies!

  • Nate said:
    September 10th, 2008 at 1:53pm

    I like to just tear the bread into uneven chunks to make it more rustic.
    I sure do hope we have tomatoes through October. Fall is coming way to quickly for my tastes!

  • Dana McCauley said:
    September 10th, 2008 at 2:32pm

    I made a similar salad last week – it was delish. I added fennel and olives to mine, too.
    THe majority of my tomato crop is still on the vine, yet to ripen. I hope that the frost doesn’t get to my crop before the sunshine does!

  • San Francisco Photos said:
    September 11th, 2008 at 5:55am

    This looks quite yummy definitely has an end of summer look to it – the colors and all. Might try it this weekend.

  • Pia said:
    September 11th, 2008 at 3:32pm

    Tomatoes and basil, always a perfect marriage.

  • Foodista Fan said:
    September 12th, 2008 at 5:22pm

    You can never go wrong with a salad, and you know what would go best with Panzanella? A nice glass of limoncello! Its amazing! Let me share with you the perfect recipe for it here:

  • mattatouille said:
    September 12th, 2008 at 5:23pm

    that photo looks amazing. I want to make a panzanella salad now. I’ve seen one made on PBS, I think it was Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie (saw you on that show too!)

  • Sara said:
    September 12th, 2008 at 6:49pm

    I always add a bit of honey to my vinaigrette too – lately I’ve really been enjoying minced shallot in it too.

  • Kaykat said:
    September 12th, 2008 at 11:14pm

    I’m glad you wrote about your vinaigrette – it'[s always fun to hear about how other make theirs 🙂
    I usually just toss my panzanella really carefully, think I’m going to try your strategy the next time!

  • The Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet said:
    September 15th, 2008 at 12:26pm

    You know, I’m so making this tonight. Awesome!

  • Pim said:
    September 15th, 2008 at 2:36pm

    Thanks everyone.
    Mary-Anne, sorry I won’t be able to attend. I’m in Europe then. The event sounds great, I’ll be sad to miss it.
    Nate, yeah tearing works too.
    Foodista, thanks for the Limoncello recipe, I’ve always wanted to make it. I might try this later this year.

  • Virginia said:
    September 16th, 2008 at 2:00am

    Panzanella is not a salad……is a poor main dish made with stale tuscan bread (bread without salt), and don’t forget onion. Ther’s many ways to prepare this dish, people “with money” put it in some anchovy and capers or black olive.

  • Carol Peterman said:
    September 17th, 2008 at 9:31am

    I had just been given some heirloom tomatoes, had basil on hand and come across your post. I got up from my computer and went to the kitchen and made panzanella. The first panzanella I have ever made. I loved it. Thanks.

  • Discover Unearthed said:
    September 17th, 2008 at 9:41am

    I work for a small food company in the UK and one of our Italian suppliers always makes this for us when we visit – with a drop of wine it is late summer evening heaven! We’ve tried to recreate it commercially but really hard – guess you just have to make it fresh! if you know a way….

  • Kendra said:
    September 17th, 2008 at 7:15pm

    I’m on a panzanella kick, so this is fun to read. Tomorrow is a trip to the farmer’s market for tomatoes, so this will happen over the weekend at our house. Can’t wait!

  • Su Lane said:
    September 17th, 2008 at 9:23pm

    Vinaigrette with a touch of maple syrup and dijon is also good.

  • Food Snob said:
    September 22nd, 2008 at 2:08pm

    Just noticed this post of yours on panzanella.
    It is something I recently discovered at an Italian restaurant in London. It was served with char grilled sardines and was beautiful…just thought I would share that 😉

  • A said:
    September 23rd, 2008 at 5:58am

    Have you seen the smitten kitchen cooking blog? There is a post a bit like this one on that.

  • syrie said:
    September 24th, 2008 at 9:37pm

    Gorgeous Pim. I love bread salads. Sometimes I usually cut up a baguette, toast it and rub it with garlic. Yum.

  • Y said:
    October 9th, 2008 at 5:26am

    Summer is just starting to creep into our corner of the world here. Can’t wait to begin enjoying many salads such as panzanella (one of my favs) in the months to come!

  • lesley said:
    October 25th, 2008 at 5:36am

    First dish I ate in Italy!! and so many years ago! I’d forgotten about it.
    thanks Chez
    Lesley ;0)

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