Panzanella is a classic salad originating from the Tuscany region of Italy, and popular throughout the country. It’s super simple to make and easy to adapt to what you have at home too. Bread, onion and tomato are all you need, but feel free to make it your own!
This chopped bread and tomato salad is also an incredibly versatile, simple and tasty salad to use up stale bread.
I was introduced to Panzanella salad when I used to live in Australia, more than a decade ago. I’ve been making it regularly since then, all year round. It may typically be a warm weather salad, but so long as I have dry or stale bread and tomatoes in the house, classic panzanella salad is a no-brainer. It’s such a great way for us to use up stale sourdough bread, and the ends of bread loaves.
What is Panzanella?
Panzanella is an Italian chopped salad, which consists of chopped stale bread, chopped tomatoes, onions and salad dressing. I also always add basil and cucumber to the salad, and sometimes I like to add parsley, peppers, hard-boiled eggs or even bacon too!
This obviously diverges from the simple, classic salad, but as you can see it’s very adaptable and these additions ramp up the flavor several fold! The stale bread absorbs all the flavor from the ingredients. This quintessential summer salad is also known as Panmolle.
Ingredients needed to make classic panzanella salad
Stale bread is what is traditionally used, but I prefer to use toasted bread instead. Fresh (or stale) bread is cut into cubes and toasted in the oven with oil and garlic. I find that this gives me the BEST results for a delicious panzanella. It’s the same technique that I use for my roasted panzanella salad as well.
I also don’t like to use regular supermarket sandwich bread. A good sourdough loaf, baguettes, or any crusty loaf of bread will work perfectly.
Summer tomatoes are the best for this panzanella salad for obvious reasons. They just taste that much better. But you can use tomatoes in the winter too even if they don’t taste as sweet.
Here, I use heirloom tomatoes. But I also love using cherry tomatoes! Roma tomatoes also work very well. Basically any tomato that tastes good to you will work in this panzanella recipe.
Why do you salt the tomatoes?
The trick to getting tomatoes to taste even better is to salt them. This was something I picked up years ago, although for different reasons. Salt draws out moisture, making the tomato taste just a little sweeter, and also prevents sandwiches from getting soggy by the tomatoes.
But for this recipe, we WANT all that moisture to soak the bread cubes. So salt those tomatoes to draw out the moisture (i.e. more “flavored moisture” to soak the bread), and it makes the tomatoes a little sweeter as well.
I like to use red onions, or vidalia onions or shallots. All these onions can be eaten raw, so it’s important to use an onion type that can be enjoyed raw. My personal preference is shallots, because they are sweeter and they have a more subtle sharpness in flavor. Honestly though, I use red onions more often because they are more widely available.
This is usually optional, but I LOVE cucumbers in this salad. It’s the main crunchy factor in this salad too.
Basil is my herb of choice for this salad. But you can also use a combination of basil and parsley.
A simple garlic lemon dressing will work wonders in a classic panzanella salad. But I do often like it with a balsamic dressing instead though.
Other optional ingredients
- Bell peppers
- Arugula leaves
- Boiled eggs
How to make the salad
There are a few additional steps that I take to make this panzanella salad to my liking. You are welcome to skip these, but I do highly recommend following them if you can.
First, cut up the stale bread into 1 inch sized cubes. This doesn’t have to be precise, just roughly the same size. Don’t make them too small because you want the bread to absorb the moisture, but not turn into mush either.
Toast the bread cubes with butter and garlic. You can do this in the oven or in a large pan. I prefer the oven, because it dries out the bread more. The goal is to add flavor to the bread and remove moisture. The bread doesn’t have to be toasted all over – only slightly toasted.
Place the toasted bread cubes in a large bowl.
Cut up the tomatoes into similar-sized cubes. If you’re using cherry tomatoes, cut them in half. Place them in a bowl, and sprinkle some salt over the tomatoes. Mix and let it sit for about 10-15 minutes. The salt will draw out some of the water in the tomatoes and make them a little sweeter as well. Do NOT throw out the water that is drawn out.
While the tomatoes are sitting in the bowl, get the dressing for the panzanella salad ready. I love balsamic vinegar, so my dressing of choice is a mustard and balsamic dressing. A simple lemon vinaigrette also works beautifully! Whisk all the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl and set aside.
Slice the onions into thin slices. If the onion is big, cut the slices in half to make them shorter. Chop the cucumber into 1/2 inch cubes as well. I prefer the cucumbers to be a little smaller, but you can also cut them into 1 inch cubes if you like, or even slice them. Totally up to you.
Pluck the basil leaves, and roughly slice or chop them.
Assembling the salad
To the large bowl containing the toasted bread cubes, add the chopped tomatoes, onions, cucumber and basil. Toss to combine.
Finally, drizzle about half of the dressing and toss to combine. You can add more dressing if you like, but I find I only need about 1/2 or 2/3 of the dressing for myself.
Now, you have to allow the panzanella salad to sit for at least 20 minutes before eating.
When you’re ready to eat the salad, you can serve and eat it just as is! Or you can dial up the flavor even more,
- Add crumbled feta or goat cheese on top.
- Add shaved parmesan on top.
- Or top it with a soft boiled or hard boiled egg for extra protein in your salad.
Variations to the Panzanella salad
This is the recipe for a classic panzanella salad. But feel free to change up the ingredients to make this your own!
I’ve previously shared this roasted panzanella salad on the blog. This version involves bread and tomatoes as well, but the tomatoes are roasted to make them sweeter. Along with the tomatoes, I also roasted sweet potatoes and sausages. The tomatoes and sweet potatoes are served with the bread, along with the sausages and some spinach.
It’s a more warming salad, perfect for colder months.
But you can also make other simple variations.
- To keep the recipe vegetarian, you can add some pan fried tofu or marinated tofu to the salad.
- Add leftover roasted chicken (rotisserie chicken).
- Pan fried salmon is DELICIOUS in panzanella!
- Add some salad leaves such as kale, spinach or arugula.
- Give it a bit of a “Mediterranean” touch by adding olives, artichokes, and feta cheese.
- For an “East Asian” twist, add spring onions instead of red onions, along with kimchi and a soy sauce dressing.
This panzanella salad is a classic for a reason! It’s a simple and comforting salad, brimming with flavor. Plus, you can adapt it to your tastes just as easily with slight ingredient variations.
Classic Panzanella Salad
- 680 g tomatoes you can use cherry tomatoes, vine tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, or roma tomatoes
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 226 g crusty bread cut into 1 inch cubes (about 4 cups)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic finely minced
- 3 shallots or 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp capers finely chopped
- 1 english cucumber cut into cubes (½ inch cubes) or halved and sliced
- 15 basil leaves
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar substitute with white or red wine vinegar, or champagne vinegar
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil or any neutral oil will also work
- 1 tbsp honey
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Basil leaves (optional)
- Feta cheese or parmesan cheese (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and set aside.
- Cut the tomatoes into 1 inch cubes and place them in a bowl. If you’re using cherry tomatoes, cut those in half.680 g tomatoes
- Sprinkle about 1/2 tsp of sea salt over the tomatoes in the bowl. Mix to combine and set aside for at least 15 minutes. While you wait, you can toast the bread and get everything else ready (see below).½ tsp sea salt
- In a large bowl, place all the cubed bread. Drizzle the oil and add the garlic. Toss to combine well.226 g crusty bread, 3 tbsp olive oil, 4 cloves garlic
- Place the bread cubes (tossed in oil) on the lined baking tray.
- Toast the bread cubes in the oven for about 15 – 20 minutes. A little browning is good.
- Remove the baking tray from the oven, and let the bread cool down. Once cooled, transfer the bread into the large bowl (this is where you will be mixing the salad, so make sure the bowl is large enough).
- Cut the shallots into thin slices. Cut the cucumbers into cubes or slices and roughly chop the capers. The basil can be rolled up and sliced into thin strips (chiffonade), or torn by hand into rough pieces.3 shallots, 2 tbsp capers, 1 english cucumber, 15 basil leaves
Making the dressing
- Place all the ingredients for the dressing (except for the oil and seasoning) in a bowl. Whisk to combine.1 tsp dijon mustard, 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tbsp honey
- Next, whisk while drizzling in the oil to create an emulsified dressing. I add between ⅓ cup – ½ cup oil. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking.½ cup extra virgin olive oil, Salt and pepper to taste
Assembling the salad
- Once all the ingredients are prepared, and the tomatoes have been salted for at least 15 minutes, you can make the salad.
- Add the tomatoes into the large bowl with the bread, followed by the cucumbers, shallots, capers and basil. Toss to combine.
- Next drizzle the dressing over the bread, and toss to combine.
- Cover the salad and let it rest for about 20 – 30 minutes before serving. This will allow the dressing and all the other flavors to be absorbed by the bread. To make sure the bread is absorbing the flavor equally, toss the salad a few times during this 20 – 30 minute wait.
- Serve with some crumbled feta or shaved parmesan on top, or more freshly sliced basil leaves.Basil leaves, Feta cheese or parmesan cheese
“This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition data is gathered primarily from the USDA Food Composition Database, whenever available, or otherwise other online calculators.”