What do you do with day-old bread? Do you throw it away (I hope not), or perhaps freeze it? Maybe pulse it into breadcrumbs, or fry into fluffy French toast? Do you make croutons for soups and salads? I do all these things, but perhaps my favourite way to use stale bread is in Tuscan bread salad, or panzanella.
I suspect that each Italian household has a favourite way of making this salad. Rather than a recipe, then, the process of making panzanella follows a few simple rules. The most important thing for the success of panzanella is, first of all, the type of bread. The best for the scope would be unsalted Tuscan bread, as it holds its shape wonderfully after soaking, becoming wet but not soggy; though any good sourdough would do just fine.
To soak the bread, good wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil are required – the oil for flavour and the vinegar to add a pleasant acidic note to the salad. Finally, the vegetables. In origin, before the advent of tomatoes, these only counted sliced onion, cucumber, torn basil, and other herbs such as wild rocket and purslane (as reported by Emiko). Tomatoes made their way into this salad in recent times only, though quickly gaining the role of key ingredient. Personally, I like using ripe tomatoes in abundance – either big fleshy bulls’ hearts or, like in this case, tiny candy-sweet datterini. Instead of red onion, I sometimes throw in thinly sliced fresh Tropea onions (the sweetest of their kind). I then enjoy topping it all up with a mixture of herbs: basil, but also a bit of parsley for extra freshness. And if I have some hanging out in the fridge, I like dotting the salad with some black olives right at the end – a completely unorthodox addition that I still stand behind.
Start by arranging the bread on a large tray or platter, and by spooning water over it a little at the time, as long as you see it absorbs it – I used about 12 tablespoons here. Allow to wet and rest for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine all the vegetables in a large bowl. Drain the bread and squeeze out any excess water. Using your hands, crumble the slices into the bowl. Now, pour in the vinegar and oil, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Finish off with the parsley and basil leaves and toss some more. Place in the fridge for at least 1 hour. Toss again before serving.