Panzanella Toscana is the sort of dish put together as a tribute to glorious leftovers. Overripe tomatoes, stale bread and kitchen staples are tossed together for a remarkable tasting salad you will be making again and again and again!
You only have to look at the colours in this salad to know its origins - the green of the basil, the white of the bread and the red tomato all epitomise the colours and flavours of Italy.
At first glance, this may seem like a tomato salad, but it is in fact, a bread salad that is made with very ripe tomatoes. For more delicious and filling bread salads, try our Fattoush salad made with Lebanese/pita bread or our Cretan salad made with rye rusks. Why not give those a try as well?
Table of contents
What is Panzanella Toscana?
A frugal salad that originated in Tuscany it was made as a way to use up stale bread and summer tomatoes that were overripe and oozing their delicious juices.
An authentic Italian Panzanella salad recipe is made with stale, dried bread that has been rehydrated, ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil and vinegar.
Top Tips 💡
- Salting tomatoes enhances their flavour and draws out the water, which intensifies their sweetness and leaves some yummy tomatoey juices for the dressing.
- Make sure your bread is thoroughly toasted otherwise, it will go soggy.
- Let the salad stand for 30 minutes before you serve it, the delicious flavours will meld together, and the toasted bread will soak up the flavour of the dressing and tomatoes but don’t overdo it.
- You need to get the timing of Panzanella salad just right; the veggies need enough time to soak up the flavourful dressing but not too long that they turn soggy so aim for the absolute minimum of 15 minutes BUT no more than an hour.
You Will Need
Ingredients, Substitutions & Variations
Italian bread salad is great for using up any stale bread and overripe tomatoes that you have lurking in your kitchen. We added some cucumbers for crunch, and some red onion then toasted the bread to prevent it from turning into a gloopy mess.
- Stale bread - a stale dense loaf with a chewy centre (not too soft that it disintegrates to mush and not too firm so that it doesn't soak up the dressing. Try a ciabatta, a pane di casa, artisan or sourdough loaf with lots of holes (open crumbed). Avoid soft loaves such as baguettes, soft rolls, and dinner rolls as they will not hold up the dressing and turn gloopy. Croutons can be made a week in advance and stored in an air-tight container.
- Italian Seasoning - for toasting the croutons for an added flavour kick, you can substitute with some dried oregano, or you can leave it out if you prefer.
- Overripe tomatoes - This is such a simple salad, so you must use good quality ingredients. It is best made when tomatoes are in season, super-ripe, with a wonderful rich tomatoey aroma (this is the perfect place to use up tomatoes that are overripe and oozing)
- Great tomato varieties are truss, vine-ripened tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, aromatic beefsteak tomatoes or even small sweet cherry tomatoes mini Roma tomatoes will work.
- Fresh Basil - for its wonderful aroma and bright green colour. If you can’t find any, just add a tablespoon or two of store-bought pesto.
- Lebanese/Persian Cucumbers - for added crunch, these varieties have fewer seeds and won’t turn overly watery. For other varieties, it is a good idea to remove the seeds first.
- Dressing - we have kept it super simple here and just added some red wine vinegar and a good quality olive oil. It is light and bright, yet just so flavourful. You can also add a minced garlic clove for some pungent flavour.
To Make it a Meal, Consider Adding
- Cheese - like fresh mozzarella, burrata, or feta will add a wonderful creamy element to your salad. Parmesan and pecorino would also work here and would add some fruity nuttiness.
- Tuna - a tin of drained, flaked tuna also works well in this salad and makes it a meal.
- Chicken - some diced or shredded roast chicken for added protein.
- Prosciutto - for an added salty bite.
- Capers/caperberries or Kalamata olives - for some added brininess to your salad.
- Avocado - for some buttery flavour and to boost the satiety of this salad.
How to Make It (step-by-step)
Step 1 - Salt Tomatoes
Step 2 - Grill Bread
Step 2 - Prepare remaining ingredients.
Step 3 - Assemble Salad
This is a firm family favourite that we make all the time, and that has been served in a dozen different ways in our house.
Personally, I love this salad just on its own during the summer and will quite often make it as a quick lunch with some cheese, chicken or tuna added.
We have served Panzanella countless times at barbecues as it partners perfectly with grilled meats and holds up well.
Try it with -
- Any pasta dish, especially lasagna
- A whole roast chicken
- Chicken or prawn skewers
- Grilled fish such as barramundi, salmon and even tuna steaks
- Or even with a vegan creamy mushroom risotto
People Often Ask...
I would make it anywhere from fifteen minutes (at the very least) up to one hour in advance to allow the flavours to mingle, but ideally, 30 minutes is best. Allow it to come to room temperature before serving.
For added crunch, reserve some of the croutons to add to the salad just before serving.
We have covered this in the ingredients list above,
But, a stale dense loaf with a chewy centre - such as a ciabatta, a pane di casa, artisan or sourdough with lots of holes.
Do not use soft bread such as baguettes, soft rolls or dinner rolls.
Panzanella Toscana will keep covered in the fridge for a few days. The tomatoes may lose some of their flavours, and the bread will become a bit soggy.
A great satisfying salad for vegan and vegetarian eaters. The bread in this salad makes it unsuitable for keto/low-carb eaters (9 grams of net carbs) and those with gluten intolerance.
Other Italian Salad Recipes to Try
- Recipe for Italian Tomato Salad Made with Fresh Basil
- Italian Salad with Artichokes & Parmesan Dressing
- Italian Vinaigrette - homemade deliciousness!
- Parmesan Dressing - creamy & delicious
- Homemade Italian Seasoning Substitute
- 2 pieces of stale bread (ciabatta or sourdough bread)1 (1 cup diced, Note: 1)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning Mix2 (can sub with dried oregano Note: 2)
- 4 medium truss tomatoes3 (approximately 500grams/17.64 ounces; Note: 3)
- 1 small Lebanese/Persian cucumber4 (approximately 130 grams/4.6 ounces; Note: 4)
- 1 small red onion (approximately 60 grams/2.12 ounces)
- ½ bunch basil (fresh)
- ⅓ cup olive oil 5 (Note: 5)
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- Sea salt and cracked black pepper
- Wash and trim your tomatoes, cut into wedges and salt for 10-15 minutes in a large mixing bowl.
- Cut your bread into a small dice, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkly with Italian seasoningg. Grill until golden brown.Note 6
- Wash, trim and peel your cucumber and onion, cut the cucumber into thick rounds and the onion into thin slices.
- Wash your basil, shake to remove excess water, pick the leaves (reserve a few for a garnish) then tear them roughly.
- Add all your prepared ingredients to the mixing bowl with the tomatoes with the olive oil and red wine vinegar, and season with some pepper.
- Toss everything together until well combined; taste and adjust seasonings according to your taste.
- Arrange your Panzanella Toscana salad in a serving bowl, and chill in the fridge, ideally for 30 minutes, before you are ready to serve, then garnish with the reserved basil leaves and bread. Note 7 Serve and enjoy!
- Try a ciabatta, a pane di casa, artisan or sourdough with lots of holes in it (open crumbed). Avoid soft loaves such as baguettes and dinner rolls as they will not hold up the dressing.
- For added flavour I have used some of our Italian Seasoning Mix, you can sub with dried oregano or leave it out if you prefer.
- This is such a simple salad, so you must use good quality ingredients. It is best made when tomatoes are in season, super-ripe, with a wonderful rich tomatoey aroma. We have used truss tomatoes, but heirloom tomatoes, beefsteak or even small sweet cherry tomatoes will work.
- Lebanese/Persian cucumbers have fewer seeds and won't go soggy in the salad.
- Use good quality olive oil for its fresh, complex flavour.
- Grilling your bread prevents it from turning gloopy in the salad and adds a nice crunch.
- You need to get the timing of Panzanella just right; the veggies need enough time to soak up the flavourful dressing but not too long that they turn soggy. Ideally, 30 minutes but at a pinch 15 minutes also works.