Yield: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes
This recipe is a variation of the Insalata di Pane or Tuscan Bread Salad. Simple to make, but success depends on the quality and freshness of the ingredients and the type of white bread.
It is said that this dish originated many centuries ago with poor farmers in Tuscany making use of stale bread. The original version from Tuscany uses day-old bread, arugula (rocket salad), onions and other garden vegetables.
You need white bread with a firm texture, it can be a couple of days old. Ciabattas or any crusty, white bread works well. Don’t use sandwich bread.
- 1 3/4 lbs (800 g) ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup (about 100 g) chopped scallions
- 16 slices of day-old Italian bread, cut into 2 inches (5 cm) cubes
- 1 cup (240 ml) extra virgin olive oil for frying the bread
- 1 cup (240 ml) extra virgin olive oil for dressing
- 16 black olives (in oil)
- 16 basil leaves
- a large bunch of arugula (rocket), spinach or any other bitter green salad, washed and spin-dried
- 1 lb (450 g) mozzarella cut into 1 inch (2 1/2 cm) cubes
- Balsamico vinegar
- salt and freshly ground pepper
Optional (use either one or both):
- 1/2 lb (225 g) feta cheese cut into 1 inch (2 1/2 cm) cubes
- 16 slices of Italian salami, cut into slivers
Heat olive oil in a frying pan medium to high heat (put 1 bread cube in, if it sizzles the temperature is about right). Do not use too much olive oil, a 1 inch (2 1/2 cm) layer is enough. Otherwise, the bread will get soggy. Arrange the bread in the frying pan in 1 layer, do not overcrowd and fry it on all sides until golden (not brown). Drain the bread on a paper towel. Alternatively, you can toast the bread, albeit this is never done in Italy.
Arrange your salad greens on a plate, top it with the bread cubes, tomatoes, scallions, mozzarella, feta cheese and/or salami slivers (if using them), black olives and basil leaves. Mix extra virgin olive oil and Balsamico lightly. Taste for salt and give a generous grinding of black pepper.
Serve immediately. A bottle of chilled rosé, Pinot Grigio or any light, crisp white wine completes this agreeable, tasty summer dish.
We had our first Panzanella salad in Triora, a hillside town near Ventimiglia. Arriving very late at the Hotel Colomba d’Oro, restaurant already closed, the chef Anna (my namesake), prepared us in no time this tasty, hearty salad.