Panzanella is a famous Florentine salad, also popular in other parts of Tuscany (notably Posara!). Its basic ingredients are bread and tomatoes, dressed in oil and vinegar, but you can add all sorts of other tasty things.
Rachel Brown, who makes a wonderful panzanella for Sunday lunch for our painting holiday and writing course guests, makes her own version of this classic Tuscan dish.
Rachel says: “It’s very simple to prepare; the only prerequisite is that you make it a few hours in advance: the more time that the bread has to soak up all the oil, the better. There are many different versions of this salad using a wide array of ingredients and as long as you stick to the bread and tomato theme, you can’t go wrong – but I reckon that my version is best! The ingredients below are enough for six people.”
Stale bread, torn up into small squares. Preferably crusty baguette-type bread. (You could use regular sliced bread, but I won’t lie – your salad will be rubbish.)
1 red onion, thinly sliced.
6 juicy tomatoes, roughly chopped.
A large handful each of capers, black olives and sun-dried tomatoes roughly chopped up small.
Fresh basil leaves, torn. The more the merrier.
Drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
Glug of extra virgin olive oil.
Squirt of lemon juice.
Salt & pepper
Chop up everything (except for the basil) and throw it into a nice big dish. Drizzle, glug and squirt seasonings.
Leave it to rest for at least 1 hour, then scatter the torn basil over it. A bit of green makes the salad look great and basil is ideal for a true Tuscan flavour.
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Bill comments: “This truly is delicious. The Florentine traditionalists probably forego the capers, olives and sun-dried tomatoes, but I am with Rachel in adding these. It is interesting that Florentine bread (but not the bread we use in Posara) is made without salt. The Florentines say it allows us to taste the flavours of the accompanying food, but I think I like a bit of salt in my bread, too. And it is noticeable that more recipes using day-old bread emanate from Florence than anywhere else in Italy!”
Bill adds: “Of course, if you were a real traditionalist, you wouldn’t use tomatoes anyway: they didn’t arrive from the New World until the end of the 15th Century and they weren’t used in Italian cooking until much later. (Difficult to imagine Italian cooking without tomatoes, isn’t it?) One of the first descriptions of panzanella came from the poet and artist Bronzino, who wrote of a salad of onions, purslane (Portulaca oleracea) and cucumbers.”
One of the great Italian painters of the 16th century, Agnolo di Cosimo known as Bronzino (1503−1572) painted glittering portraits of the Medici Grand Dukes of Tuscany and their families.