Rural Cuisine Stars: Panzanella, a Summer Bread Salad
Hot summer days bring “panzanella time” to central Italy. This rural dish of la cucina povera (literally “cooking of the poor man,” ie humble cuisine), la panzanella (bread salad) is a perfect summer food for the hard-working rural people: tasty, filling and simple ingredients, not requiring cooking over a hot stove and easily prepared prior to a meal (and should be). Not only: none of the ingredients need be purchased as any farm family would have them all.
Appealingly tricolor (like the Italian flag), la panzanella can be a satisfying and nutritious first course.
Some ingredients are essential to any panzanella, but one’s own culinary flare – and what’s in the garden! – result in many a variation.
Essential to any panzanella?
- Tuscan or Umbrian bread (as the center is coarse and not too soft), a few days old
- ripe tomatoes (cherry tomatoes, if possible)
- purple onion, finely diced
- olive oil, q. b. (“quanto basta” or “as much as you need”)
- salt, pepper q.b.
- wine vinegar / about 3 T
- a cucumber, sliced and diced
- 5 or 6 basil leaves, diced
Bread should be moistened – and some moisten with water and vinegar, then squeeze out the moisture before adding other ingredients.
I made this evening’s panzanella this way: I gave the bread a “shower”, ie, did not soak. I cut the bread (about 3 days old) into chunks and added about 2 c. of cherry tomatoes (cut in half), diced cucumber, one diced purple onion, black olives, finely-diced fresh fennel, about 6 diced basil leaves and covered all with our olive oil, q.b, and then mixed in about 3 T of wine vinegar. I shaved in, too, some of Pino’s goat cheese, il tomino di caprino di Pino. (I always add diced celery, too, though did not have any this evening).
Peppa puts salad in her panzanella and soaks the bread in water and vinegar til soft, squeezing it out before adding the vegetables (she also cuts her vegetables into large pieces):
My inspiration for tonight’s panzanella? That buonissima panzanella our tour group enjoyed in Bevagna in May – with bread in pieces, rather than soaked until a soft pulp. Luciano (owner/cook at Le Antiche Sere where we ate) also used savory green olives – and added thinly-sliced carrots, wild herbs from the hills.
…and so, la panzanella variations will continue….
Click here to read about Peppa’s panzanella
Read more about Luciano’s cooking at Le Antiche Sere – and our unforgettable Bevagna day
Read about Pino’s tomino di caprino cheese, made with our goats’ milk