Panzanella is an Italian bread salad originally made to use up leftovers; a base of crusty (stale) sourdough or ciabatta, a mix of fresh diced tomatoes, and a red wine + olive oil vinaigrette. Topped with fresh basil, Panzanella is a perfect way to savour the freshest flavours of the season.
Panzanella [Italian ‘Pane‘ meaning ‘bread’ & ‘zanella‘ meaning ‘small basket’]
Welcome to August, the season of abundance. This time of year is moving on a very fundamental/primal level like, I can’t eat enough of this stuff before Winter comes. My son and I are zealously devouring ripe tomatoes off the vine while they’re still warm and prickly from the sun. Upon extracting myself from the jungle, the smell of tomato vines emanates from my skin and my hands are stained bright yellow and covered in red juice!
If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you know this has been the year of tomatoes for us. We grew three new heirloom/heritage varieties, two of which are pictured here (Vintage Wine and Yellow Brandywine). Unfortunately, we lost a couple plants to early blight and Fusarian wilt-a disease heirlooms are more susceptible to as a result of less hybridization over the century. Regardless, we still find ourselves with a varied bonanza this month…and I relentlessly dream of growing every heritage variety available.
We’re fairly lucky that our local markets bring an abundance of heirlooms each summer…purple, yellow, orange, green, speckled, striped and ombre, all with charming names like ‘Dwarf Emerald’, ‘Ferris Wheel’ and ‘Rosella’. They’re beautiful and strange to look at with their oblong, rippled shapes. I have to hand it to these growers because heirlooms can be a finicky crop, and there were many times over the last few months I though I’d lost our plants altogether. However, with proper care and ongoing maintenance, they are quite resilient…and worth every effort [I shared some of my growing and maintenance tips on Instagram; you can find them in my story highlights].
Traditional Panzanella uses anchovies, a mix of fresh chopped tomatoes, chopped basil and crunchy (stale) bread cubes to soak up a gorgeous red wine vinaigrette. Heirlooms, in particular, can be so unbelievably juicy and sweet; the process of salting them in advance extracts their flavorful waters, which are then used as part of the vinaigrette base. My version of Panzanella includes all of the above (minus the anchovies) and is a perfect recipe to enjoy the freshest flavours of the season. My preference is to use fresh ciabatta bread and toast it either in the oven, skillet or toaster.
Of course, you can use any tomato variety you like in this recipe. There are hundreds of tomato species, however, society is only custom to ~22 as a result of modern agriculture. An eye-opening book I read many years ago, The End of Food by Thomas Pawlick, sparked my initial interest in preserving heirlooms and organic fruits and vegetables. A good read. Bottom line, source heirlooms if you can 🙂
Bold and beautiful flavours await with this simple and easy Summer Panzanella…
HEIRLOOM TOMATO PANZANELLA
Panzanella is an Italian bread salad traditionally made up of leftovers. Made with a base of toasted sourdough or ciabatta cubes, fresh diced tomatoes and a red wine + olive oil vinaigrette. Topped with fresh basil, this Panzanella is a perfect way to enjoy the fresh flavours of Summer!
- 2 lbs heirloom tomatoes or your favourite variety
- 6-8 1/2 " slices of ciabatta bread about 4 cups cubed
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 shallot finely diced
- 1 clove of garlic finely diced
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- fresh cracked pepper
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves roughly chopped.
Chop the tomatoes into bit sized pieces and add to a large bowl. Sprinkle with 1 tsp of sea salt, toss to combine and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, toast* the bread slices (I use a toaster) and then tear into small 1" pieces. Set aside.
Gently strain the juice from the salted tomatoes into a large serving bowl (reserve the tomatoes). Add the shallot, garlic, dijon, red wine vinegar, and olive oil and whisk until combined. Add the toasted bread cubes and chopped tomatoes, then toss to combine with the dressing. Season with fresh cracked pepper and chopped basil. Serve immediately.
*For toasting in an oven: cut it into cubes, give it a light coating of olive oil and bake in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet for 20 minutes at 250'F, shaking the pan halfway through the cooking time. You can also toast the cubed bread in a large skillet with a small amount of olive oil over medium heat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Panzanella will last covered in the fridge for up to 2 days, however, the bread will have absorbed all the vinaigrette and will be quite soft. This salad is best served and eaten in the same day.