La panzanella is a rustic, summertime recipe from the Italian cucina povera, a style of cooking characterized by tantalizing dishes originally made by the poor and working classes from humble ingredients. In the cucina povera, home-grown food is put to good use and no left-over is wasted. True to that value, la panzanella was created as a way to use up bread gone stale.
Originally a Tuscan dish, la panzanella eventually spread to the Umbria, Marche and Lazio regions of central Italy, and as often happens variations emerged. The original Tuscan recipe called for bread, red onion, basil, olive oil, wine vinegar and salt. Tomatoes were soon added to the recipe, and over time la panzanella became known as a bread and tomato dish.
Today cucumbers are often included with the tomatoes, while not all recipes call for onions. Finally, a notable difference exists in la panzanella as a salad with the bread broken into pieces, most common in Tuscany, in contrast to la panzanella as a whole piece of soaked bread with the tomatoes on top, sometimes referred to as la panzanella romana.
Although the bread remains whole in Stefano’s mom’s panzanella, for this post we opted for the salad version, using our home-made left over bread, tomatoes and cucumbers from the farmer’s market, red onion, and garden basil for a touch of color.
4 slices of stale bread
2 ripe tomatoes
1 medium cucumber
2 very thin slices of red onion
1 small bunch of basil
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. salt
Lay the bread into a shallow pan and add cold water up to the top of the slices. Drizzle one tablespoon of white wine vinegar over the bread, and let soak for 20 minutes.
Cut two very thin slices of red onion, and place them into a bowl of cold water to allow some of the strong flavor dissipate for 20 minutes.
In the meanwhile, cut the tomatoes and cucumber into cubes and place into a bowl. Chop the basil and add it to the mix. Toss with salt and mix.
Return to your bread, which will have soaked up the water and vinegar mixture. Remove the crust, squeeze out the excess liquids, and crumble large pieces of bread into the bowl with the tomatoes, cucumbers and basil.
Drizzle olive oil over the salad, and stir well. Refrigerate at least one hour, and serve chilled.
We drank a 2008 Italian Chardonnay by producer Giacomo Vico with the rustic and earthy panzanella. This is a classic Chardonnay from the Langhe area of Piedmont, well-balanced with a yeasty, buttery flavor and a nice, clean finish.