Easy. Simple. Tasty. Nourishing.
That’s pretty much all you can want from a recipe, right? Panzanella, a traditional Tuscan bread “salad”, is all of them.
What you will need:
A loaf of dense, Tuscan bread (about 500g)
Several very ripe tomatoes or a large bunch of cherry tomatoes (however many you’d like)
One large cucumber or two medium-sized ones
One medium red onion
Red or White Wine Vinegar
About 15 leaves of basil
Most recipes also call for two stalks of celery, but I left this out as I don’t really like celery
You can add more or less of any ingredient you’d like; it’s all according to taste. In other parts of Italy, they’ve adapted this recipe to regional tastes and added things like garlic or fresh peppers. For the sake of this post, I kept mine simple but feel free to be creative.
First, slice the onions very thin I kept the smaller circles whole and cut the larger ones in half. Soak them in cold water, having added a few tablespoons of vinegar. I may try to actually “pickle” them a bit next time, adding a little salt or sugar to create a brine and leaving them to set for a while longer. In this recipe, though, an hour or so will do.
Next, tackle the bread. As you can see, the only Tuscan loaf I could find was long and narrow, which concerned me a bit when it came to cutting off the crust. I started by chopping off the small ends and then carefully removed the long side edges.
After that I cut the loaf in half and cut each half lengthwise into three pieces, giving me six somewhat small – but workable – slices of bread.
Then I carefully cut off the crust from each slice. It was a bit of a massacre, but it worked (I haven’t quite decided what to do with the crusts yet; my cousin suggested croutons).
Put the bread in any container with sides taller than the bread is thick. You’re going to need to be able to cover the bread with water (it will float, but the idea is the same).
Sprinkle vinegar into the water – as much or little as you like. I think adding more vinegar adds more flavor; the bread only absorbs so much, don’t worry.
While the bread is soaking, cut up the rest of your vegetables however you like. I chose thin slices for the cucumber and decided to quarter the cherry tomatoes. You can also drain the onions at this point and take the stems off of the basil leaves.
After the bread soaks for about 15 minutes, wring it out. Yep, that’s right – take a piece in your hand and squeeze till no more water comes out. Tear it into large-ish pieces and put it into a large container to begin mixing everything together.
Toss all of the ingredients with salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar. The bread will soak up a lot more than you think; my advice is to start slowly and gradually add more as you taste it. Let the mixture sit for at least an hour in the fridge (the longer you let it sit, the more the flavors meld) and then set it back out for at least 15 minutes to bring it back to room temperature before eating.