Panzanella – a Tuscan summer staple

There’s no Tuscan dish that says “summer” more than panzanella, the bread and vegetable salad that accompanies just about every summer picnic or get-together in the region.

It’s a versatile dish that can be made with whatever vegetables are abundant in your garden or local market. It can be eaten right away but actually gets better if you make it a few hours or even the day before.

The 3 “musts” of panzanella are:

1. Only use rock-hard (but not musty) slices of old bread.

2. You must include tomatoes. All of the other veggies are optional.

3. Mix your veggies with salt before adding the bread so they leak out their delicious juice that will be soaked up by the bread.

INGREDIENTS FOR PANZANELLA

  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 big or 2 small fresh onions
  • 1 rib of celery
  • 1/2 bell pepper
  • 1 small cucumber l
  • 8 leaves basil
  • 3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbs red wine (or balsamic) vinegar
  • 1-2 tsp salt
  • 8 slices of hard bread (preferably salt-free like all Tuscan bread)
  • Optional additions: olives, capers, mozzarella, tuna, zucchini

HOW TO MAKE PANZANELLA

Put your bread in a big bowl and cover with water. Let sit until the bread soaks up the water, gets soft, and should double in size.

Chop all of your veggies (again, whatever summer vegetables you have around will do, as long as you include tomatoes). Toss them in a big bowl with the salt, vinegar and oil.

Squeeze the bread to remove the excess water, one small handful at a time, and add to the vegetables.

Toss all together, and add any additional salt, oil or vinegar to taste (but keep it subtle – the flavors will grow over time). When ready to serve toss with basil leaves and any additional ingredients you want.

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