By Ashley Riley
The white of the onion, the red of the tomato and the green of the basil. The dominant colors in the salad bowl actually give us a tip about the homeland of this salad. Panzanella is an excellent salad born in the fields of Toscana and produced by farmers. It was presented to the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele, by the Italian Bettino Ricasoli in 1865 and it was adopted by all social classes and expanded its borders from the countryside of Tuscany. There are a few rumors about the origin of the word; Some claim that the word panzanella is combined with the words soup bowl and bread, while others say it is derived from “papa”, which means “food”.
We can basically call it “wet bread salad” for Panzanella, referred to as “Panlavato (washed bread)” in Decameron, which is considered to be the masterpiece of the famous poet Boccaccio. We’ll also share the original recipe from Toscana farmers in a moment, but first we’d like to say a few more words about this salad. Stale bread is always valuable for Italians, because stale bread takes an important place in traditional dishes such as panzanella. Most of Florence recipes such as ribollita and pappa al pomodoro are made with the famous Toscana unsalted bread. There are more than one rumors about this; the most common is based on the medieval rivalry between Florence and Pisa. It is said that after Pisa prevented the salt trade in Florence, Florentine bakers removed salt from all their products and continued their production in this way. This has become an established taste in a short time. Although there is no problem of access to salt today, bread is still produced without salt in Toscana.
If you are in Florence during a summer season, you can make yourself a beauty and order a large bowl of Panzanella to relax while sitting in the narrow and vibrant streets of the city. Besides its nutritious properties, the most important feature of this salad is that it is extremely refreshing. The recipe of this salad, which is obtained by soaking stale bread and mixing it with garden vegetables, has changed from region to region over the years, some added eggs, some added ham. We will stick to the original recipe, but of course you can enrich your salad with the vegetables you crave.
- 2 1/2 pounds (1.1kg) mixed tomatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
- 2 teaspoons (8g) kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
- 3/4 pound (340g) ciabatta or rustic sourdough bread, cut into 1 1/2–inch cubes (about 6 cups bread cubes)
- 10 tablespoons (150ml) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or red wine vinegar
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup (1/2 ounce) packed basil leaves, roughly chopped
Place tomatoes in a colander set over a bowl and season with 2 teaspoons (8g) kosher salt. Toss to coat. Set aside at room temperature to drain, tossing occasionally, while you toast the bread. Drain for a minimum of 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F (180°C) and adjust rack to center position. In a large bowl, toss bread cubes with 2 tablespoons (30ml) olive oil. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until crisp and firm but not browned, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
Remove colander with tomatoes from bowl with tomato juice. Place colander with tomatoes in the sink. Add shallot, garlic, mustard, and vinegar to the bowl with tomato juice. Whisking constantly, drizzle in the remaining 1/2 cup (120ml) olive oil. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.
Combine toasted bread, tomatoes, and dressing in a large bowl. Add basil leaves. Toss everything to coat and season with salt and pepper. Let rest for 30 minutes before serving, tossing occasionally until dressing is completely absorbed by bread.
image credit : cookingnytimes.com