Bread salad, like French toast and croutons, is one of those delicious foods invented by necessity: Poor people needed to get another meal from leftover bread that had gone stale.
Large croutons are a main ingredient of the salad, rather than the small American-style croutons used as garnish.
Panzanella, the Italian word for bread salad, is a Tuscan-style bread salad made with a loaf of day-old (or older) bread, cubed into large croutons and tossed with vinaigrette or other dressing to soften it. Chopped salad vegetables are then added.
The translation we have found for panzanella is “bread in a swamp,” the swamp being the vinaigrette or water in which it was soaked. While crusty Italian loaves were used in the original, you can use any bread from baguette to challah to semolina raisin to sourdough.
While today’s recipes can be rich in ingredients, the peasants who originally made it foraged to pull together vegetables from the garden—cucumber, onion and tomato—and possibly purslane, a salad green that grows wild.
Early recipes were heavy on the onions, the cheapest ingredient to pair with the bread. When there wasn’t enough oil to spare, the bread was moistened in water.
Today, this peasant dish is a popular first course for all in Italy. It doesn’t appear often on menus of U.S.-based Italian restaurants. That’s too bad, because it’s a dish worth knowing.
So today’s tip is: Make a panzanella. As long as you have vinaigrette- and bread, you can create the salad from anything. It‘s a great way to use up anything in the pantry or fridge, including leftovers.
In our home, summer isn’t summer without lots of panzanella salad. Made with the season’s produce bounty, it‘s a refreshing summer dish that takes just minutes to whip up.
This recipe from Sunset Growers represents the original, simple salad, made glorious by the freshest ingredients.
It’s been made better-for-you by substituting the standard rustic bread for a whole wheat loaf.
 In panzanella, Tuscan bread salad, croutons are a main ingredient, not a garnish (photo courtesy Sunset Growers).  A truly sophisticated take from Beauty & Essex restaurant in New York City: Croutons like fat piano keys are lined up and topped with salad and octopus.  Half kale, half croutons, with accents of apple and bacon (the recipe from FoodFaithFitness.com).  Kumato tomatoes (photo by River Soma | THE NIBBLE).
Panzanella salad with added chicken (photo courtesy Go Bold With Butter).
1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Place the bread cubes and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large bowl. Toss to fully coat the cubes. Place the cubes onto an ungreased baking sheet and toast until crispy (about 15-20 minutes), tossing every 5 minutes. When the bread is done…
2. COOL slightly and then return it to the large bowl with the crushed garlic. Toss gently to distribute garlic evenly. Set aside.
3. STIR together in a large salad bowl the cut tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, onion and half of the salt.
4. MAKE the dressing: Whisk together the mustard, vinegar, black pepper and remaining salt until fully combined. Continue to whisk briskly while slowly drizzling in the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
4. ADD the bread to the salad bowl and toss the vegetables lightly. Add all of the dressing and toss again to coat all ingredients. Set aside for 10-12 minutes, tossing occasionally. Add the basil and toss lightly to distribute it evenly before serving.
MORE PANZANELLA RECIPES