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 was 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While today’s recipes can be rich in ingredients, the peasants who originally made it foraged to pull together vegetables from the garden—cucumber, onion and tomato—and possibly purslane, a salad green that grows wild.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.
Bell peppers, celery, carrots, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, zucchini
Anchovies, beans, chicken, hard boiled eggs, mozzarella or other cheese, tuna
Lettuce and other salad greens (we especially like the bite of arugula or radish)
Fresh herbs (basil is great here)
Capers, olives, pickled vegetables
Rice and other grains, boiled potatoes
Fruit: apple, berries, grapefruit, orange, stone fruit, watermelon
Bread of choice
Vinaigrette of choice (consider an infused oil or vinegar)
MIX & MATCH PANZANELLA INGREDIENTS
RECIPE: SIMPLE PANZANELLA SALAD
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.
5-6 cups whole wheat bread cut into 1 inch cubes, about 1 rustic loaf
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped and mashed
3 kumato* tomatoes, standard cut into 1 inch pieces or cherry cut in half
3 yellow tomatoes, standard cut into 1 inch pieces or cherry cut in half
1 English cucumber, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1-1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup thinly sliced basil leaves
*Trader Joe’s sells these reddish brown-green tomatoes (see photo at right). The idea is to provide color contrast as well as flavor.
 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).