Best Summer Panzanella Salad Recipe (Bread & Tomato)

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Best Summer Panzanella Salad Recipe (Bread & Tomato)– Italian Panzanella salad is a traditional Tuscan dish that combines stale or toasted bread, fresh ripe, juicy tomatoes, good quality olive oil, a splash of vinegar, and fresh basil. It’s a refreshing and hearty salad that is perfect for summertime!

Serve with the Best Baked Chicken Recipe and Classic Tiramisu.

close up of the beautiful summer panzanella salad and all the colors and fresh tomatoes and soaked bread.
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The easiest summer salad we make weekly during our summers in Italy. It’s one of my favorite summer dishes.

This traditional Italian bread salad celebrates summer’s bounty, a culinary masterpiece that captures the essence of Italian cuisine. It offers a refreshing respite from the heat, a burst of vibrant colors on your plate, and a symphony of flavors that will transport you to the sun-kissed hills of Tuscany with every bite!

It will be your favorite salad of the summer. You will also love our Caprese salad recipe, Harvest Salad with Apples, Orzo Salad, and Vegetarian Butternut Squash Casserole.

close up of the beautiful summer panzanella salad and all the colors and fresh tomatoes and soaked bread.

Simple Ingredients

Since this tomato salad has only a few ingredients, using the best ingredients is important.

ingredient shot.
  • Bread: Stale or day-old bread is used in panzanella. It is often a crusty, rustic loaf with a dense crumb. The bread provides a hearty and chewy texture to the salad when soaked in the dressing and the juices from the vegetables.
  • Tomatoes: Ripe and juicy tomatoes are a star ingredient in panzanella salad. They bring vibrant color, sweetness, and refreshing flavor to the dish. Varieties like Roma, heirloom, or cherry tomatoes are commonly used.
  • Red Onions: Thinly sliced red onions offer a pungent and slightly sharp taste that adds complexity and a pleasant bite.
  • Basil: Fresh basil leaves are torn and scattered throughout the salad. They contribute a delightful aroma and a touch of herbal freshness. The basil complements the other ingredients and brings a distinct Mediterranean essence.
  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: A high-quality extra-virgin olive oil is a crucial component of the dressing for panzanella salad. It adds richness, smoothness, and a fruity note that enhances the flavors of the other ingredients.
  • Vinegar: Traditionally, red wine vinegar is used in panzanella salad dressing. It helps to bring out the flavors of the vegetables and bread.

See recipe card for quantities.

What is Panzanella Salad?

The history of Panzanella salad can be traced back to the 16th century in Tuscany, where it originated as a way to use stale bread. The word “panzanella” is derived from the Tuscan dialect words “pane” (bread) and “zanella” (soup bowl). Panzanella salad was born out of necessity, as Tuscan peasants sought to make the most of their limited resources.

Originally, panzanella was a simple dish consisting of soaked bread, onions, and olive oil. Over time, as fresh vegetables became more readily available, the salad evolved to incorporate ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, and aromatic herbs such as basil. These additions brought freshness and flavor to the dish, making it a beloved summertime staple.

close up of the beautiful summer panzanella salad and all the colors and fresh tomatoes and soaked bread. water glasses and olive oil in the background.

Best Bread for Panzanella Salad

The best bread for Panzanella salad is typically a hearty Italian bread or crusty, rustic loaf such as ciabatta bread. The bread should have a sturdy structure that can withstand soaking in the dressing and the juices from the vegetables without becoming too soggy or falling apart. This Panzanella recipe is a great way to use leftover bread.

Other hearty breads that work well for Panzanella include country bread, focaccia, French bread baguette, or even sourdough bread.

Serve this with Grilled Chicken Spiedini this summer!

How to Make the Best Summer Panzanella Salad Recipe (Bread & Tomato) Step-by-Step Photos

ingredient shot with close up of tomatoes.

Try to use the sweetest tomatoes you can find. I like to use different varieties and sizes.

How to make- Best Summer Panzanella Salad Recipe (Bread & Tomato)- cutting all the tomatoes.

Cut all the tomatoes and place them in a large serving bowl.

How to make Best Summer Panzanella Salad Recipe (Bread & Tomato)- adding all the salad ingredients to a large serving bowl.

Place all of the tomato salad ingredients in a bowl and toss.

How to make-Best Summer Panzanella Salad Recipe (Bread & Tomato)- adding all the salad ingredients to a large serving bowl. Adding the dressing and mixing.

Let sit for 1 hour so all the juices come out of the tomatoes, and create a sauce with the olive oil. 

Best Summer Panzanella Salad Recipe (Bread & Tomato)- cutting the ciabatta bread and adding to a bowl with oil.

Preheat oven to 350°F adjust rack to center position. In a large bowl, toss bread cubes with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet.

Best Summer Panzanella Salad Recipe (Bread & Tomato)- toasting the bread on a cookie sheet.

Bake for about 15 minutes, until crisp and firm but not browned. Remove from oven and let cool.

Best Summer Panzanella Salad Recipe (Bread & Tomato)- adding toasted bread to the marinated tomato mixture.

Combine the toasted bread with the tomato mixture in a large serving bowl. Cover with plastic wrap.

Best Summer Panzanella Salad Recipe (Bread & Tomato)- mixing all the ingredients together in a bowl with salad servers.

Let rest 30 minutes before serving, tossing occasionally until the bread absorbs the dressing.

Serve at room temperature or cold. 

Best Summer Panzanella Salad Recipe (Bread & Tomato)- in a serving platter. Wooden serving spoons near the bowl.

Substitutions

Gluten-Free Panzanella: For those with dietary restrictions, variations can be made by using gluten-free bread or omitting the bread altogether and using gluten-free croutons.

Best Summer Panzanella Salad Recipe (Bread & Tomato)- in a serving platter.

Variations

On its own this traditional Panzanella salad recipe makes a light meal or side dish. Here are a few popular variations of panzanella salad:

  1. Caprese Panzanella: This variation combines the flavors of panzanella with the classic Caprese salad. It includes the traditional ingredients but also adds fresh creamy mozzarella cheese and balsamic glaze or reduction for a creamy and tangy vinaigrette twist.
  2. Grilled Vegetable Panzanella: In this version, fresh summer veggies, such as bell peppers, zucchini, and eggplant, are grilled before being added to the salad. This adds a smoky flavor and a charred element to the dish, enhancing its complexity.
  3. Mediterranean Panzanella: Inspired by Mediterranean flavors, this variation may include crisp cucumbers, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, and oregano. It offers a briny and savory profile that complements the other ingredients.
  4. Seafood Panzanella: This variation incorporates seafood, such as grilled shrimp or chunks of cooked lobster, to add protein and a taste of the sea. The seafood pairs well with the fresh vegetables and bread, creating a more substantial and indulgent salad.
  5. Simple Protein: add grilled chicken or steak.
  6. Fruit Panzanella: In a departure from the savory version, this variation incorporates seasonal fruits like peaches, strawberries, or watermelon. The sweet and juicy fruit contrasts the bread and vegetables, creating a delightful balance of flavors.

These variations allow for personalization and experimentation while staying true to the essence of Panzanella salad. Feel free to get creative and adapt the recipe to suit your taste preferences or the available ingredients.

Equipment

How to Store Panzanella Salad Recipe (Bread & Tomato)

Refrigerate: Panzanella salad is best enjoyed fresh and should be consumed shortly after it’s made. However, if you have leftovers, you can store the salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Freezing is not recommended.

Remember, the longer the salad sits, the more the bread will absorb moisture from the vegetables and dressing, which can affect its texture. For the best experience, enjoying panzanella salad immediately after preparation is ideal.

close up of the beautiful summer panzanella salad and all the colors and fresh tomatoes and soaked bread. water glasses and olive oil in the background.

Top tips

  • Use stale bread or toast fresh bread: Stale bread works best for panzanella, as it has a firmer texture that can absorb the dressing and the juices from the vegetables without becoming too soggy. If you can’t find stale bread, you can toast fresh bread cubes in the oven until they become slightly dry and crispy.
  • Use ripe, flavorful tomatoes: Choose ripe, juicy tomatoes for the best flavor and texture in your panzanella salad. Look for varieties such as Roma, heirloom, or cherry tomatoes that are in season and bursting with sweetness.
  • Chop the ingredients into bite-sized pieces: Cut the tomatoes,bread, onions, and other ingredients into bite-sized pieces to ensure that each forkful offers a harmonious combination of flavors and textures. This makes it easier to eat and enjoy the salad.
  • Let it marinate: After mixing the ingredients together, let the panzanella salad sit for at least 15 to 30 minutes before serving. This allows the flavors to meld together and the bread to soak up the dressing and the juices from the vegetables, resulting in a more flavorful and cohesive salad.
  • Adjust seasoning to taste: Taste the salad before serving and adjust the seasoning as needed. Add more salt, pepper, or vinegar to enhance the flavors according to your preference. Remember that the flavors will develop further as the salad sits, so don’t be afraid to season it well.
  • Add fresh herbs just before serving: Tear or chop the fresh basil leaves and add them to the salad just before serving. This ensures that the basil’s aromatic flavors are at their best and adds freshness to the dish.

FAQs

Can I make Panzanella salad in advance?

Panzanella salad is best enjoyed fresh, as the bread becomes soggy over time. However, you can prepare the ingredients and assemble the salad just before serving to maintain its texture and flavors.

Can I use fresh bread instead of stale bread for panzanella salad?

While stale bread is traditionally used for Panzanella salad, you can achieve a similar effect by toasting fresh bread cubes in the oven until they become slightly dry and crispy. This helps the bread hold up better when mixed with the dressing and the juicy vegetables.

How long does panzanella salad last?

Panzanella salad is best enjoyed immediately after assembly. However, if you have leftovers, you can store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 day. Remember that the bread may become softer as it sits, so the texture may change slightly.

Can I substitute the vinegar in the dressing?

While red wine vinegar is commonly used in the dressing, you can experiment with other types of vinegar such as white wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, or even lemon juice for a different flavor profile. Adjust the quantity to taste, considering the desired balance of acidity.

Panzanella salad in a white serving platter with basil as decoration and tomatoes on the side of the plate.

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What to Serve with Panzanella Salad Recipe

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Best Summer Panzanella Salad Recipe (Bread & Tomato)

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5 from 4 reviews

Best Summer Panzanella Salad Recipe (Bread & Tomato)– Italian Panzanella salad is a traditional Tuscan dish that combines stale or toasted bread, fresh ripe, juicy tomatoes, good quality olive oil, a splash of vinegar, and fresh basil. It’s a refreshing and hearty salad that is perfect for summertime!

  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 46 servings 1x

Ingredients

Units Scale

Bread

  • 1 large loaf ciabatta bread or rustic bread, cut into 1-inch cubes to 1 1/2-inches (about 6 cups bread cubes)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Tomato Salad 

  • 3 pounds fresh ripe tomatoes, cut into bite-size pieces (mix of heirloom, cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and plum tomatoes)
  • 1/4 cup red onion, very thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped

Instructions

  1. Place all of the tomato salad ingredients in a bowl and toss. Let sit for 1 hour so all the juices come out of the tomatoes and create a sauce with the olive oil. 
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F adjust rack to center position. In a large bowl, toss bread cubes with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, until crisp and firm but not browned. Remove from oven and let cool.
  3. In a large serving bowl, combine the toasted bread with the tomato mixture. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rest 30 minutes before serving, tossing occasionally until the bread absorbs the dressing. Serve at room temperature or cold. 
  • Author: Elena
  • Prep Time: 10 min
  • Cook Time: chill time 30-60 minutes
  • Category: Savory
  • Method: Italian
  • Cuisine: Italian

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About Elena

My dream is to share delicious wholesome recipes that you will share around the table with all your loved ones. The memories surrounded by food are the heart and soul of CucinaByElena.

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7 Comments

  1. I made this recipe and now we’re hooked! I’ve actually made it better than one of our favorite Italian deli’s… everything that I’ve tried that Elena has posted has been exceptional!!






  2. This Panzanella recipe is so delicious!! I made it for a beach party and everyone loved it and asked for the recipe. Super simple ingredients and very easy to make. I will definitely be making this again and again!!❤️