May We Recommend: Panzanella (Tuscan Bread Salad) | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

May We Recommend: Panzanella (Tuscan Bread Salad)

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Stale bread never goes to waste in Tuscany where it is repurposed into soups and salads. Panzanella is a salad of chopped tomatoes and cubes of bread tossed in a vinaigrette of extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, and basil. Some versions include chopped cucumbers, onions, shallots, bell peppers, and even anchovies. The dish is served lightly chilled or room temperature.

Panzanella originated in the Italian countryside where the contadini (peasants) would soak old bread in water and mix with garden vegetables. The fourteenth century Florentine author Giovanni Boccaccio referred to the dish as pan lavato or “washed bread” in his novellas, “Il Decameron.” Early versions of the dish featured raw onions. Tomatoes were introduced to Italy in the mid-sixteenth century by Spanish conquistadores who brought them from South America. The Italians eventually adapted the dish to use tomatoes.

The secret to making a great panzanella is using fresh tomatoes, high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, and fresh-toasted bread chunks that won’t turn to mush when soaked. I prefer to keep the dish simple to enjoy the sweet tang of fresh summer tomatoes rather than overpowering with other flavors. Being a southern gal, I sometimes add small chunks of fresh summer peaches. Their sweetness complements the tomatoes.

Panzanella

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