Sourdough Panzanella Salad
Panzanella salad is everything there is to love about summer. Blood red tomatoes, plump cucumbers and sharp red onions are lightly salted to release their natural juices. Extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and basil complete the dressing, finally, bread is tossed through the salad to soak up the juices.
I fell in love with this salad while living in Tuscany. As the estate's private chef, I had access to a fantastic kitchen garden which boasted seasonal ingredients all year round. During the summer the garden would be my first stop of the day and it’s where I planned most of the menus. Panzanella salad made it onto the lunch menu at least once a week.
Traditional Tuscan bread is normally used in the salad but as my boss loved sourdough, I was baking it daily and it quickly became a staple in my Panzanella. It’s the version I’ve come to love and I still make it weekly for my family now I’m living back in Greece.
There is no hiding with dishes like this, they are simple, relying on the quality of the ingredients to deliver. The secret to preparing dishes like this is to choose the very best ingredients available to you.
Don’t treat it as a side dish, this deserves to sit up front and centre of any dining table.
If you fancy baking your own sourdough to use in the recipe, you should try my old faithful sourdough recipe.
The Tuscan Kitchen Garden
Early morning harvest
The Panzanella Recipe
You’ll find a printable recipe and an instructional video at the bottom of this blog but before we get to that I’ll walk you through this legendary salad.
This takes about twenty minutes to prepare and will produce a salad for 2 people.
2 large blood-red tomatoes that have been kept at room temperature
1 small plump cucumber or one-third of a large cucumber
1 small red onion
3-5 medium garlic cloves
2 large slices of sourdough (or 150-200 grams)
Extra virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
As I mentioned above Tuscan bread is normally used for this salad but I think sourdough works wonderfully (dare I say better than its Tuscan rival). You can use any bread you like but I would avoid enriched loaves and suggest something simple.
Traditionally the bread would be used once it had gone a little hard but not rock solid. Don’t let the lack of stale bread stop you from making this salad, it works really well with fresh bread too.
There are two ways to prepare the bread, both versions are great and texturally very different.
If you are using stale bread, pull it apart into rough chunks, place it into a bowl and cover it with cold water and leave it to soften.
The amount of time this takes will be dependent on how dry your bread is, so keep an eye on it. When I made the salad for the video that accompanies this blog it took five minutes to soften.
Once the bread is soft you can squeeze out any excess moisture using your hands. Place the bread into a bowl and fluff it up slightly. That’s all there is to it, pop it to one side until needed.
If you are using fresh bread for this version you don’t need to soak it. Simply rip it up into rustic pieces and place it into a bowl.
Soaking the sourdough
Squeezing the sourdough
In this method, the dry bread is broken or cut into pieces and roasted in the oven. You can also use fresh, it won’t make too much difference once roasted.
If I have a loaf of sourdough which has gone a little hard I pop it in the freezer and save it just for this salad. I like to have a plan on how to use my sourdough and dishes like this are perfect to utilise bread that has become hard.
When friends made this salad for me in Tuscany they would lightly bake the pieces of bread in the oven. It would come out looking as pale as when it went in. I prefer to roast my bread until it darkens, giving an amazing textural and flavour contrast to the fresh vegetables.
Take your pieces of sourdough and place them into a roasting tray and drizzle them with olive oil. I like to add 4 or 5 garlic cloves, I leave the skin on but smash them under my hand. The garlic perfumes the olive oil and the sourdough during the roasting.
Sprinkle the sourdough with sea salt and toss everything together making sure the bread is coated in the olive oil.
Slide the tray into an oven that has been pre-heated to 220c (430F) and roast for about ten minutes turning the bread over once or twice during cooking.
Cook until your desired colour is reached. I’d suggest playing around with this until you find out what suits you, as I said I like my sourdough to be golden with dark tinges on the edges (see video below).
Remove the sourdough from the roasting tray and leave it to cool to room temperature.
Preparing the vegetables
At the risk of boring your socks off, I’m going to mention it one more time, choose the best ingredients you can find for this salad.
Remove the core from the tomatoes, cut them into pieces and place them into a large mixing bowl.
Peel the cucumber and cut it into rough chunks. Don’t be tempted to remove the watery core as this will contribute to the dressing later.
Peel the onion and slice it, placing it into the bowl along with the tomato and cucumber.
Remember this is a rustic salad, so no prices for the most uniformly diced vegetables. Cut things to a size that will fit onto a fork or a spoon and most importantly, fit into your mouth comfortably!
Add several basil leaves to the bowl along with a very generous sprinkle of sea salt and several twists of freshly cracked black pepper.
Mix the ingredients together and leave the bowl for five minutes on the work surface. The salt will draw moisture from the vegetables creating a fragrant pool at the bottom of the bowl.
Add a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil and a splash of red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar works just as well. Add more fresh basil followed by either the soaked or roasted sourdough and fold all of the ingredients together.
Now it’s time to be patient for a few minutes, we want to give the sourdough a chance to soak up the dressing and soften.
Now you can gently slide the salad onto a serving plate, you are ready to experience one of the best summer salads known to mankind!
Don't forget to check the video out below! A huge thanks for taking a look at this recipe, I’ll be back very soon, stay tuned.
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