This Panzanella (Italian Bread and Tomato) Salad makes great use of stale bread! Toasted to crispy perfection in a skillet with olive oil, the bread soaks up the delicious juices from the tomatoes and easy macerated onion vinaigrette.
Panzanella is an Italian (specifically, Tuscan) salad made of stale bread and juicy tomatoes, with plenty of extra-virgin olive oil. Leave it to the Italians to know how to make old, stale bread into something magical and delicious! I’ll NEVER be tossing old bread again.
This panzanella recipe also includes cucumbers, fresh basil, and capers. It’s tossed with a simple vinaigrette made with macerated red onions, to take their raw bite out. And it only takes about 10 minutes to whip up!
Read on to find out how to toast the bread to perfection in a skillet, how to macerate red onions for the vinaigrette to bring out their natural sweetness, and how to turn this salad into a complete meal by adding protein.
Toasting the bread for Panzanella
A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to dine at Erin French’s restaurant in Freedom Maine, The Lost Kitchen. More on that at another time.
While I was there, I picked up her cookbook. I borrowed her method of toasting the stale bread in a skillet with olive oil for this panzanella bread salad, rather than baking it in the oven. It’s faster, it doesn’t heat up your house, and it ensures crispy outsides but chewy and soft insides.
Simply heat up a couple of tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in a large, heavy skillet. I used cast iron, but any kind will do. Then, add pieces of torn (or cubed), stale bread, tossing it around a few times in order for it to absorb the oil and brown to golden perfection on all sides.
This is a great way to whip up some simple croutons, too!
Making the vinaigrette with macerated onions
Another tip I took from Erin French’s cookbook was to make a vinaigrette with macerated onions. She uses shallots to make a shallot vinaigrette; I took the same concept and applied it to sliced red onions for this panzanella salad.
Macerating the onions is as simple as letting them soak in vinegar and salt for a few minutes or up to 24 hours. The vinegar draws out the natural sugars in the onions, softening them and taking out that raw onion flavor. It’s the perfect way to prepare the onions to be part of the salad, while at the same time infusing their flavor into the vinaigrette.
(You could also use pickled red onions for this recipe, if you like.)
Just add some red wine vinegar (or rice vinegar) to some sliced red onions along with some kosher salt. Let it sit while you prepare the rest of your ingredients (like peeling, seeding, and slicing the cucumbers) and toast your bread, stirring them around occasionally.
Then, just before mixing the panzanella salad together, stir some extra-virgin olive oil into the onion mixture. You’re going to love how simple and easy this vinaigrette is, and how much it enhances the flavors!
How to make Panzanella Salad
Once you have the bread toasted and the vinaigrette mixed, making panzanella is as simple as tossing everything together in a big bowl.
Tomatoes are the other star of this recipe: I recommend using super juicy ones. I used cherry tomatoes from my garden, but this is a great opportunity to use any tomatoes that are almost too ripe for any other use.
Toss the tomatoes, along with seeded and sliced cucumber (peeled, if you prefer- I like “half peeled” so some color remains) and some drained and rinsed capers (optional) in a large bowl with the toasted bread and the vinaigrette. And don’t forget the fresh basil- here’s a tutorial on how to cut it into a perfect chiffonade.
Then, season to taste with more salt and pepper. THAT’S IT! Told you it was easy.
It’s best served within 20 minutes or so. Any longer than that and the bread will become soggy. See recipe notes below for how to prep this in advance.
Make it a meal
But if you want to keep things really simple, I recommend adding some protein directly to the salad to make it into a complete meal, such as:
- fresh mozzarella or burrata
- drained and rinsed white beans or chickpeas
- shredded rotisserie chicken or leftover grilled chicken
- cooked shrimp
And feel free to experiment! This salad is great with other added veggies too, such as baby arugula or spinach, bell peppers, zucchini, summer squash, etc. As long as you have bread and tomatoes and the yummy vinaigrette, you’re good to go.
And if you have any extra tomatoes, this roasted red pepper and tomato soup is a great way to use them up!
What kind of bread to use
I recommend a good, crusty artisan loaf for this. Here’s my favorite recipe for no knead Dutch oven crusty bread.
Other easy salad recipes:
- Cucumber Tomato Salad with Feta
- Beet Salad with Feta, Cucumbers, and Dill
- Broccoli Salad with Apples, Cranberries, and Walnuts
- Deconstructed Wedge Salad
- Watermelon Salad with Queso Fresco, Lime, and Cilantro
- Thai Sesame Red Cabbage and Carrot Salad
- Mediterranean Chickpea and Orzo Salad
- Peach Corn Tomato Salad with Spicy Honey Vinaigrette (from The Cookie Rookie)
- Zucchini Ribbon Salad with Lemon, Parmesan, and Pine Nuts
Did you make this Panzanella Salad Recipe? Please comment below and Rate this Recipe
Panzanella (Italian Bread Salad)
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar rice or balsamic vinegar can also be used
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt plus more if needed
- 1/2 cup red onion quartered and thinly sliced
- 3 cups stale bread torn or cubed into 1" pieces
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil divided
- 2 cups chopped tomatoes cherry or other is fine, the juicier the better
- 1 cucumber peeled, halved, seeded, and sliced thinly
- 10 leaves fresh basil cut chiffonade
- 1 tablespoon capers drained and rinsed
- black pepper to taste
- Mix the 1/2 cup sliced red onion with the red wine vinegar (2 tablespoons) and kosher salt. Set aside for 5-10 minutes, mixing it up a few times as it sits.
- Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of the extra-virgin olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bread pieces and cook until browned, turning occasionally, about 3-4 minutes total.
- In a large bowl, mix together the tomatoes, cucumbers, capers, and fresh basil.
- Add the browned bread to the bowl with the vegetables.
- Drizzle in the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil into the onion mixture, mixing well. Pour on top of the salad and toss together. Season with more salt and a little black pepper, to taste.
- Serve immediately, or within about 20 minutes, or the bread will be too soggy.
- Make it a meal: add fresh mozzarella, white beans, chickpeas, shrimp, or sliced grilled chicken to the salad for added protein.
- Time Saving Tip: You can mix the tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, and capers together beforehand, and soak the onions in the vinegar and salt for up to 24 hours before making. Then, just toast the bread and mix the olive oil with the onions just before tossing together. You can also skip toasting the bread, as long as the bread you are using is very stale and hard.
- Money Saving Tip: This salad is already pretty cheap to make, but to save more money, omit the capers, especially if you don't think you'll use the rest of the jar for anything.
- Don't have stale bread? No problem! I recommend making homemade croutons in the oven instead of using the skillet, so they dry out a bit more, but toasting fresh bread in the skillet will be fine too.
- The provided nutrition information does not include any added sodium from seasoning to taste, any optional ingredients, and it does not take brands into account. Feel free to calculate it yourself using this calculator or by adding the recipe to Yummly.