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What is a Panzanella?

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Panzanella is an Italian salad which features stale bread which has been moistened, either by being pre-soaked or with the vinaigrette which the salad is dressed with. This salad is most commonly found around the area of Tuscany, where it is generally served as a summer salad, featuring garden-fresh ingredients like tomatoes and cucumbers. Panzanella is quite easy to make at home, and it is a very flexible salad; any number of things can be added to the salad to make it more interesting or to take advantage of locally available ingredients.

A very basic panzanella includes bread, tomatoes, and basil, dressed with a mixture of oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Many cooks also like to add vegetables like cucumbers, sweet onions, and bell peppers, and panzanella can also include olives, cheeses, and meats, depending on one's personal taste. The use of other fresh herbs can also jazz the salad up a bit, as can a squeeze of lemon juice.

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There are a number of ways to prepare the bread for panzanella, and the preparation of the bread is actually a topic of debate among people to try to make the most authentic version of the salad. Some people argue that the bread should come from a traditional Italian loaf, and that it should be cut into thick slices before being soaked in water, wrung out, and then crumbled. Others think that the bread should be cubed and toasted in oil, butter, or bacon drippings, while some cooks prefer to tear the bread and rub it with flavored oils.

The focus of this salad really is the fresh, seasonally available vegetables. High quality produce should be used in panzanella, and the flavors and additions should be kept fairly simple for a more traditionally Italian version of the salad. With good produce, this salad is flavorful and complex enough on its own, and the wedges of bread can be used to soak up the juices. Too many ingredients can obscure the naturally simple flavor of panzanella.

If you are making panzanella and you are planning to serve it later, wait to add the vinegar. The acidity can cause the vegetables to turn slightly acidic, detracting from the flavor of the salad. For taking the salad on a picnic, one can bag the ingredients and vinaigrette separately, and toss them together at the picnic site; this will prevent the salad from getting soggy or mushy.

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aaaCookie
Post 6

@FernValley- Well, people have been using croutons for a long time. I think it's fair to say though that most people don't think so much about the croutons they use and how they go with a dish as you might for pita in fattoush or soaked bread in panzanella. Croutons can be tasty, though.

FernValley
Post 5

I think that panzanella salad is also really similar to fattoush salad, especially the types of panzanella that are made with toast. I enjoy both, and think it's interesting that both Italian and Levantine cultures have a very common recipe for salad using bread, and it is much more integral to the meal than the more common American tradition, where if anything we just toss some croutons on top.

myharley
Post 4

The best panzanella salad is made with fresh tomatoes and cucumbers from my garden. In the summer time this is my favorite salad when I have so many choices of fresh vegetables to add.

I try to incorporate a healthy salad in many of my summertime meals and making a panzanella salad is a great way to do that.

I usually always have a vinaigrette dressing with my salad not matter what, so using this type of dressing to soften the bread is ideal.

I also like to make my own bread, so this is another way to use up any stale bread. Sometimes when I want a light meal, I will just have a big panzanella salad and this leaves me full and satisfied.

serenesurface
Post 3

@ysmina-- I think the toasted bread is the American touch to panzanella. I've tried making it with the original recipe which calls for soaked bread. But just the thought of soft watery bread in my salad prevented me from doing that.

I think I'm too used to having croutons in my salad or something. But I can vouch for panzanella with toasted bread, it's really very delicious. I've even made it with cubes of left over pita bread which toasted much better than white bread and added a nice crunch to the salad.

It might not be the original way of making panzanella, but I enjoy it this way. I also liked what you said about the spirit of Mediterranean cooking and I completely agree!

burcidi
Post 2

In my family, panzanella is referred to as "the poor man's salad." That's definitely not the case now but I supposed in the old days in Italy, these ingredients were easy to find and really affordable.

This salad is almost a staple with us in the summer months. It's really refreshing and it's much easier and cheaper to get the veggies in the summer, we rarely have it in winter.

My favorite part about this salad is the dressing. My mom makes a dressing with balsamic vinaigrette, virgin olive oil and lots of garlic. It's the best dressing ever, the store bought Italian dressings are so far off from it. I think the dressing is what makes this salad so good.

ysmina
Post 1

Yea, there doesn't seem to be a consensus on how the bread should be made for panzanella, I've seen so many variations on the recipe. Some say, toasted bread, some say soaked in water. Some include fresh peppers, others don't. Some use a lot of fresh herbs, some use vegetables like zucchini and squash.

As someone of Mediterranean roots and a love for Italian cuisine, I don't think how exactly you prepare the panzanella or which ingredients you include or don't include matters that much. The food culture of the Mediterranean emphasizes fresh food and no waste. I think this is the origin of panzanella. It's about picking fresh tomatoes, peppers and basil from the garden and putting yesterday's loaf of bread to good use and adding lots of olive oil.

I don't think any panzanella that is made with these points in mind can ever go wrong.

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