Panzanella is a typical summer dish, fresh and full of flavour, capable of bringing out the best from a few seasonal ingredients. As with a large part of poor cuisine recipes, the ingredients are very simple, they can be found in a vegetable garden, and besides it is an excellent way of using stale bread. As a rule, Tuscan bread, also known as pane sciocco (saltless) should be used, and indeed we suggest you read this very nice article on bread in Maremma.
As for the name, according to some sources, it comes from the union of the word pane (bread) with zanella, that is to say the soup bowl used to serve this “salad”. It needs to be pointed out, however, that other sources mention the custom, among farmers, of eating bread with the fresh vegetables from the garden, those that were at hand during the daily work. So vegetables and bread are seasoned make doing with what’s available, «while sitting on the edge of a ditch, called zanella, hence panzanella».
Anche sulle origini del pane toscano senza sale le opinioni divergono. Secondo alcuni sarebbe infatti il risultato delle dispute tra Firenze e Pisa, attorno al 1100, quando Pisa bloccarono i rifornimenti di sale a Firenze, e i fiorentini dovettero adattare il loro pane di conseguenza. Secondo altri invece dipenderebbe dalle tasse imposte sul sale, sempre a Firenze, che costringevano di nuovo le famiglie ad adattarsi.
400 g stale bread
lots of basil
1 red onion
extra virgin olive oil
Wet the stale bread with cold water and a tablespoon of vinegar without soaking the slices too much. When the bread is soft, squeeze it and crumble it in a large soup bowl. Slice the tomatoes, the garlic and do the same for the onion. Add the ingredients together with the basil roughly cut into pieces, season with oil, salt, pepper and, if you wish, some vinegar. Mix carefully and if necessary add some more seasoning.
This recipe is so simple that today there are infinite variants, depending on what we have in the fridge or in the pantry. Hard boiled eggs, tuna, capers, olives, celery… In other words, starting from the traditional recipe one can vary and in fact it can be quite fun.
Panzanella can be matched with different wines, depending on the ingredients you decide to include in the recipe. In its simpler form, it can be matched with more structured white wines or, in the case of richer variants, with medium structured red wine, con vini rossi di media struttura.