Panzanella is a healthy Tuscan bread salad recipe made with the sweetest ripe tomatoes, chunks of cucumber, slivered onion, and capers with a simple vinaigrette and fresh basil, perfect for summertime eats.
Panzanella (aka one of my favorite things to nosh on during the summer) is a Tuscan bread salad dating all the way back to fourteenth century, even before the arrival of tomatoes in Italy! This simple peasant dish was a clever and resourceful way to revive old bread, by mixing it with raw veggies, spices, oil, and vinegar. It’s by far one of the most delicious and easy ways to showcase the bounty of summer produce, especially gorgeous, juicy-sweet tomatoes and fresh cucumber. I love it with peaches too, like in this peach panzanella with burrata and bacon. I also have a Greek-style version I love.
But this panzanella is my recipe for the perfect, no-frills, traditional version. The key to this recipe is using slightly stale, chewy bread for the perfect vehicle to properly soak up the zippy vinaigrette dressing without resulting in soggy bread. All of the flavors mingle and marry, and it is the best salad to enjoy on a hot summer’s evening with just about anything and everything else on the table.
What’s in Panzanella
Classic panzanella has just a few fresh ingredients, plus a few pantry staples. Here’s’ what you’ll need:
- Day-old bread: I use a few slices of thick-cut sourdough from one of my favorite local bakers then toast it in garlic-infused oil for extra flavor
- Sweet tomatoes such as campari and cherry tomatoes
- Red onion
- Capers—while these aren’t in some panzanella recipes, I love the salty, briny bite they bring.
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Red wine vinegar
- Fresh basil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
How to Make Panzanella
Panzanella is so easy to make, and just needs 30 minutes to an hour for all the flavors and textures to get happy and juuust right.
Here’s how to make it:
Choose any assortment of tomatoes as long as they’re at their sweet best. I like vine-ripened summer tomatoes, but if they’re not available, campari or sweet cherry tomatoes mean you can make this salad any time.
The key ingredient that sets this salad apart is day-old bread. That does not mean stale, hard as a rock bread. I like to use thick slices of sourdough cut into 1-inch chunks so there’s more tender bready bits than ruin-the-roof-of-your-mouth pieces of crust.
If you don’t have day-old bread, crisp it in a skillet. But I don’t usually bother with day-old bread. Instead I sauté it in a skillet with olive oil infused with a clove of garlic for another layer of flavor.
Cut your bread and veggies all the same size—or as close as you can. That way the bread doesn’t take over and dominate the chunks of cucumber and tomato.
Toss it all with a simple vinaigrette and fresh basil. This is a simple salad so keep it easy.
To Toast or Not to Toast?
Texture is everything in this salad. You don’t want soggy bread, but you also don’t want bread that’s too crisp. It’s all about toeing that line so you get chewy chunks of bread with slightly crisp edges. If you don’t have day-old bread, crisp it in the skillet as I’ve suggested above.
Why is it Called Panzanella
Some people say panzanella is derived from the Italian word “panzana,” which means food. Others say it comes from the combination of the words “pane” (bread) and “zanella” (soup bowl).
Is Panzanella Good the Next Day?
Unfortunately panzanella does not hold up well the next day, and actually starts to deteriorate (i.e. the bread becomes too soggy) a few hours after it’s ready to eat. If you’re trying to save time, you can always prep your bread and making your dressing ahead.
Additions or Substitutions
- Instead of sourdough, use a baguette or ciabatta cut into chunks
- Try any type of juicy tomato, adding different cuts for variety of size and texture.
- Add red, green, or yellow bell pepper for more crunch
- Try zucchini or yellow squash in the salad
- Top with big slivers of Parmesan cheese
- Add more tang with sliced olives
What to Serve With Panzanella
- THE BEST Grilled Salmon
- Grilled Vegetables
- The Best Grilled Chicken Breast
- Arugula Salad with Shaved Parmesan
- Mediterranean Grilled Pork Chops
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating on this recipe below and leave a comment, take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
How to Make THE BEST Panzanella
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil , divided
- 3 garlic cloves , divided
- 6 cups 1-inch cubed sourdough bread
- 1 ½ pounds tomatoes , any ripe, sweet tomato works, cut into 1-inch pieces
- ½ English cucumber seeded and cut into ½-inch pieces
- ½ cup slivered red onion
- 2 tablespoons capers
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup fresh basil leaves , roughly torn or thinly sliced
- Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a large skillet with 1 clove slivered garlic. Bring to medium heat, cooking the garlic until it becomes fragrant and golden, then remove the garlic slivers from the oil and discard. Add the cubed sourdough to the skillet and toss to coat. Cook the bread until golden, about 5 minutes, then transfer to a plate and set aside to cool.
- In a large bowl, add the tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, and capers with the cooled bread. In a small bowl, add the olive oil, red wine vinegar and use a garlic press to add the remaining garlic cloves into the bowl with the kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Whisk well and pour over the tomato mixture. Add the basil and toss to combine. Let stand at room temperature for 20-30 minutes before serving. This salad is best served the day it's made.
More Summery Salads to Try
- Peach Panzanella Salad with Burrata and Bacon
- Crunchy Asian Cucumber Watermelon Salad
- Fattoush Salad
- THE BEST Caprese Salad
- Tuscan Tuna and White Bean Salad
- Greek-Style Panzanella Bread Salad Recipe
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