In the summer months, healthy, wholesome and flavourful salads are the way forward. One of my favourites is panzanella, a Tuscan salad of bread and ripe tomatoes. To the uninitiated, it sounds ridiculous. Bread as the star in a salad? However, chunks of crusty bread are the perfect companions for juicy tomatoes. The salad is brought together with classic flavours: fresh basil, extra-virgin olive oil and a splash of vinegar. It is seasoned simply with flaky sea salt and cracked black pepper. For this reason, there’s a familiarity about panzanella that even young children can appreciate.
The magic of a panzanella happens in the hours after it’s assembled: the juices from the tomatoes marry with the vinegar and oil and soak into the crusty bread. Each bite is brimming with flavour. This version includes buffalo mozzarella for added richness.
Because the salad benefits from soaking time, it is an ideal make-ahead dish. Give it a go for your next barbecue or picnic! You can’t go wrong with such simple and beautiful ingredients.
1. Heirloom tomatoes are best for panzanella – they are far more flavourful than commercial varieties. The key is ripeness. Cherry tomatoes and beefsteak tomatoes also work well as long as they are really ripe. An authentic panzanella would traditionally be made to use up stale bread, but in this version, you can get the same effect by baking it, as instructed below.
2. You can use your favourite crusty Italian bread. Ciabatta is a great option. I used a Kalamata olive ciabatta which added even more flavour and worked perfectly alongside its old chum, tomato. Alternatively, you could use a good quality sourdough.
500-600g ripe heirloom tomatoes, ideally a mix of colours and varieties
250g crusty Italian bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
100g cucumber, thinly sliced (optional)
100g red onion, thinly sliced (optional)
cracked black pepper
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, more to taste
2 tbsp red wine vinegar / balsamic vinegar / white balsamic vinegar
120g fresh mozzarella, torn or sliced into bite-size pieces
1 bunch fresh basil, torn
- Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celsius or 425 Fahrenheit
- Line a baking tray with parchment and lay out the cubes of bread on the tray.
- Sprinkle with sea salt and drizzle lightly with olive oil.
- Bake the bread for 10-15 minutes, until the cubes have crisped up and turned golden brown.
While the bread bakes…
- Roughly chop tomatoes and add to salad bowl and season with sea salt and cracked black pepper.
- Add the mozzarella and half the basil to the bowl.
- Add the bread, cucumbers, onion (if using) to the salad bowl and mix.
- Add the vinegar and olive oil then toss the mixture with your hands.
- Have a taste and season accordingly with more salt, pepper, oil or vinegar if needed.
- Refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour and a maximum of 4.
Just before serving…
- Remove the salad from the refrigerator 20 minutes before serving.
- Garnish with more basil.
Kumud Gandhi is a Nutritional Food Scientist bestselling Author, Broadcaster, and Keynote Speaker on the subject of nutritional health for productivity & performance in the workplace. In 2010 Kumud founded ‘The Cooking Academy’ a cookery school that focusses on cooking for nutritional health and wellbeing. Kumud regularly presents to international audiences on a variety of topics such as ‘Eating for Immunity and a Lifetime of Wellness’. She is an expert in the field of Wellness in the Workplace and works with organizations to create transformational change in employee health & well-being through nutrition and health coaching.