The Best Panzanella You’ll Ever Have

Have you ever had panzanella? When I was studying abroad in Florence during college, we would eat a delicious salad of juicy tomatoes, fresh basil, sharp vinaigrette and cubes of bread. The bread really makes the salad—and you can (and should!) use old stale bread, since it softens up in the tomato juice. Happily, Laura from The First Mess agreed to share the best recipe ever…

The Best Panzanella You’ll Ever Have
By Laura Wright of The First Mess

I’ve always loved to eat healthy, but not in an outright way. Celebrating produce in season, the practice of cooking itself, gathering around a meal with people you like—these are the important and perhaps subtle ways of healthy living to me. I’ve attended culinary school, worked in a bunch of restaurants and studied nutrition, but I always come back to those three core ideas because they’re within everyone’s reach. I love this dish because it fits into those notions of seasonality, intuitive cooking and gathering ’round.

I eat a lot of salads, but classic panzanella is my absolute favorite. I make it all through the warm months. Juicy summer tomatoes, sharp vinaigrette, tons of fresh basil, and little toasted cubes of crunchy bread, only slightly softened by all that luscious tomato juice…too good. I dream of its rustic ripeness all winter long.

The dish itself represents the kind of food that I love to make and the underlying philosophy that drives it. Sure, the bread is stale, but it’s brilliantly reinvented here while the deep red tomatoes and fragrant basil, literally springing out of every corner in the garden, find their happy ending too. Tear up some crusts of bread, walk through your garden, one healthy pour of olive oil and you’re almost there. It’s a simple, crowd-pleasing recipe you can tuck into your back pocket all summer long.

Recipe: Classic Summer Panzanella
Serves 6-8

For the croutons:
4 cups cubed bread (about ½ inch cubes)
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:
5 cups halved cherry tomatoes (about 2 to 3 pints)
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small shallot, peeled and finely diced (or ¼ cup fine diced red onion)
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves (from 4 to 5 sprigs)

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Place the bread cubes on a large, parchment lined baking sheet. Drizzle bread cubes with the 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Lightly toss bread cubes to coat in the oil and seasoning.

Place coated bread cubes in the oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until croutons are golden brown and crunchy. Remove and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the cut tomatoes, red wine vinegar, olive oil, diced shallots, garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine. Allow this mixture to sit for at least 10 minutes. The longer it sits, the juicier the tomatoes will be.

Toss the croutons with the dressed tomatoes in the large bowl. Allow this mixture to sit for about 15 minutes, stirring it up here and there to distribute the dressing. Transfer the tomatoes and croutons to your serving bowl. Roughly chop or tear the basil leaves and scatter them on top of the panzanella and garnish with a whole sprig of basil if you like.

Wouldn’t this make a great go-to lunch? Thank you so much, Laura!

P.S. More best recipes, including tomato soup and chocolate chunk cookies.

(Photos by Laura from The First Mess! Thanks to Shoko for helping with this series.)

  1. I love making this and throwing in some diced fresh mozzarella or avocado (or both!). Tastes like summer.

  2. I’ve never had panzanella, but I’m absolutely drooling over this. Sounds like something I could eat every day and never get tired of.

  3. Really tasty! I did not have basil, but the salad turned out well without it. What a wonderful way to use the cherry tomatoes we have from our garden!!

  4. Yum! Thanks for the recipe. Made this last night with a 3-day-old Balthazar baguette and added some yummy sweet corn. So delicious!!

  5. I adore Laura and her beautiful recipes! I’m totally craving her panzanella for lunch.

  6. This recipe looked so good that I had to try it last night after work. It’s so good! I had never tried panzanella before…I’m definitely going to make it again! Thanks Jo for introducing me to such a great dish

  7. One of my favorite dishes!!!! LOVE

  8. We had fish last night and I was going to do a tomato & cucumber salad. Instead I was inspired by this post and the 1/2 of a stale baguette we had laying around so I tried this recipe! It was perfect! Thanks for the idea, I really enjoy this series of posts.

  9. oh wow this sounds really good! yum i think i’ll try to make this!

  10. I was just going to comment about Sesto Fiorentino and I see someone else was there too! Small world. I loved taking the bus.

  11. Anonymous says...

    I just read about this, but have never tried to make it. Thanks for the recipe.

  12. Did you stay at the UofM villa in Sesto?! I visited my sister and my cousin when they studied there in ’99 and ’03. It’s such a marvelous place.

  13. saw this and had to make it for lunch! it was amazing! in an attempt to clear out my fridge, i added yellow tomatoes, cucumber and kale along with the original ingredients :) thanks for the recipe!

  14. Anonymous says...

    this looks delicious. i’ve never had this before. how do you eat it? I mean, since it already has croutons in it, would you just eat it on its own with a fork (vs. being served on crustini’s or something else)? please do share.

  15. Love panzanella! Just was reintroduced to it (it had been a couple years) and now my love has been rekindled.

  16. I can’t wait to make this, maybe when summer comes. Besitos, C

  17. Salivating and drooling! This salad makes for a very happy girl (and, note to self, is perfect for a Summer dinner party.)

  18. um that looks delicious!

  19. This recipe looks delicious! I was just browsing through a recipe book that recommended serving a whole roasted chicken on TOP of a panzanella salad, so that when the chicken juices would saturate the salad.

    I was thinking of trying it, but this recipe looks equally delicious on its own.

  20. I just got back from studying abroad in Florence! The city and the food was m-azing!!! sooo yummy!!!!

  21. can’t wait for this. only a few weeks to wait for my tomato plants to have ripe fruit.

    also, i’m so in love with this series.

  22. I love panzanella! Can’t wait to try out this recipe :)

  23. this sounds like a PERFECT way to celebrate my first year of successful tomato plants on my fire escape!! i might even throw in some mint (because it’s growing like WILDFIRE in it’s tiny little pot and NEEDS to be used!)

    thanks so much, joanna! great recipe :D

  24. No never ! But you gave me a good lunch’ idea for today !

  25. I make a version of Panzanella that includes cucumbers and cubes of cheese. So good!

  26. Oh Joanna. You always share the best recipies! This one looks amazing.

  27. mmm panzanella. I lived in Italy last summer and our nonna made panzanella allll the time!

  28. Love panzanella. It is one of those recipes where the ingredients really matter. It’ll be sooo much better with farmer’s market tomatoes and homegrown/sungrown basil.

  29. Yum! Reminds me of my grandfather’s cooking. Thanks!

  30. This sounds so delicious! Maybe I’ll try it for dinner.

  31. I’ve never had this type of salad but it’s one of those recipes I really want to make … TODAY!! Yum.


  32. h. says...

    if you like Panzanella and levantine food , you should try Fattoush!!!

  33. I have to try this!

  34. Ι would jazz it up with some feta cheese for a not-so-healthy-anymore meal! :D
    trust me and try it!

  35. I studied abroad in Florence too! What an amazing experience. On the topic of panzanella, I just had a cornbread panzanella with peppers and a rice wine vinegar/honey dressing. It was soooo delicious and unusual!

  36. Eleanor S says...

    That’s so cool that you studied abroad in Florence – I would love to hear more about that experience as one of your travel-related posts:)

  37. Panzanella is my favorite summer salad! I also love some capers in it. And yes, basil is a must!

  38. This comment has been removed by the author.

  39. Yum. Reminds me of summer.