Panzanella Toscana

Panzanella Toscana is a traditional rustic Italian bread salad that typically consists of stale or toasted bread, tomatoes, vegetables, and basil, dressed with a simple vinaigrette. In this version, which we fell in love with over the summer, I've added creamy mozzarella, roasted red peppers and two types of olives. It's the perfect accompaniment to grilled meats and it is always a hit at potlucks.

Panzanella toscana on a white serving platter.

Why is panzanella one of our favorite salads?

Leave it to the Italians to create a salad based on bread!!

It's hearty and healthy.

Chock-full of veggies, fresh ingredients and a light dressing, panzanella is a healthy addition to any meal as a side dish. Bread as a base means it's filling enough to stand on its own, with or without a protein on top.

It's a perfect dish for entertaining or for feeding a crowd.

Full of vibrantly colored ingredients, panzanella is as pleasing to the eye as it is to the palate. This recipe makes a generous 12 servings, so put it on the table for your next "family style" meal or set it out as part of a casual buffet.

Panzanella is a versatile dish that can be served year-round.

Panzanella Toscana is most commonly served during the summer months or when the weather is warm enough to dine al fresco. That said, you can incorporate seasonal vegetables and ingredient into this salad year-round. Think roasted butternut squash and maple syrup in the fall or lemon, rosemary and asparagus in the spring!

Panzanella toscana on a white platter.

Video tutorial: See this Panzanella Toscana in action!

Ingredients

Ingredients for panzanella toscana.

Panzanella Toscana salad ingredients

  • Ciabatta bread: Airy ciabatta bread works best for this recipe, but you can use any rustic Italian loaf or even a sourdough loaf. Make sure that the bread is fresh so that it is not too hard to slice and cube.
  • Dried thyme: Substitute with dried Italian seasoning or omit it altogether.
  • Grape tomatoes: Sweet grape tomatoes are best for this recipe, but you can substitute another small tomato varietal, such as cherry. Do not use larger chopped tomatoes, as the extra juice may result in a soggier panzanella.
  • Olives: I used pitted green Castelvetrano and black Kalamata olives of this salad, but the "FAQ" section, below, offers some other options.
  • Roasted red peppers: Look for these in the Italian foods section of your grocery store, near the olives.
  • Red onion: If you don't have a red onion, you may substitute a yellow onion, but red really works best as far as color and flavor.
  • Capers: Small round capers add a briny, salty aspect to the panzanella. Look for them near the olives or pickles in your grocery store.
  • Fresh mozzarella: I used small round "Ciliegine" mozzarella for this recipe, but any size or shape can be used and cut down to small pieces.
  • Fresh basil: See "FAQ" section, below, on how to julienne fresh basil leaves.
  • Grated Pecorino Romano (optional): Grated Parmesan may be substituted.
Close up shot of panzanella toscana.

Dressing ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • Mustard: Use whole grain mustard or Dijon mustard.
  • Red wine vinegar: Red wine vinegar is the best option for this dressing, but you may substitute champagne or balsamic vinegar in a pinch. Balsamic will yield a darker color and a heavier taste.
  • Garlic: Use fresh or jarred minced garlic
  • Salt and pepper

Step by step photos and instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F. 
  2. Slice bread into 1 inch (2.5 cm) cubes. In a bowl, toss bread cubes with olive oil . Sprinkle with thyme, salt, and pepper and toss to blend.
  3. Spread cubes in one layer on a baking sheet, and bake until lightly toasted, tossing once, about 15 minutes.

4. In a very large bowl, mix the tomatoes, red peppers, olives, red onion, capers, mozzarella, and basil. Add the bread cubes and then toss to blend.

5. In a medium bowl or a glass measuring cup with a spout, whisk all of the dressing ingredients together.

6. Pour half of dressing over salad and toss to blend. Pour remaining dressing over salad to taste, a little bit at a time, tossing after each addition. 

7. Let salad sit, covered, for 30 minutes, tossing occasionally to allow flavors to blend. Sprinkle with Pecorino Romano just before serving (optional.) Serve chilled or room temperature.

Dressed panzanella salad.

Best practices: Preparing and storing your Panzanella Toscana

Can panzanella be prepared in advance?

Yes, panzanella can be made in advance. It actually benefits from some time to sit, allowing the flavors to blend.

  1. Chop and prepare all the the ingredients ahead of time, including the bread cubes, vegetables, dressing, and cheese. Store each separately to keep them fresh.
  2. Dress the salad just before serving: Don't add the dressing until 30-60 minutes before serving. The bread will absorb the dressing quickly, and you want to keep its texture until you're ready to eat.
  3. Refrigerate: If you're prepping the ingredients well in advance (up to a day ahead), store the prepared vegetables, cheese, bread and dressing in the refrigerator.

How to store leftover panzanella

While panzanella is best served fresh, leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator to prevent them from spoiling quickly. Transfer the panzanella to an airtight container with a lid. Ensure the container is sealed tightly to keep the salad from absorbing unwanted odors from the fridge and to maintain its freshness.

It's best to consume leftover panzanella within 2-3 days for optimal flavor and texture. The longer it sits, the soggier the bread may become.

Close up of Panzanella Toscana on a platter.

Frequently asked questions

What should I serve with Panzanella Toscana?

While panzanella can be a satisfying dish on its own, you can make it part of a larger meal by serving it as a side for grilled proteins, like chicken, fish, steak, or shrimp. A selection of fresh grilled or roasted vegetables, such as asparagus or zucchini would serve as a lighter complement, as would a vegetable based cold soup, such as gazpacho.
For wine, pair your panzanella with a crisp white wine, such as a Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio, or a medium bodied red, such as a Sangiovese or a Pinot Noir.

What types of olives are best for salads?

The choice of olives for salads depends on personal preference and the desired flavor profile. Here are some popular types of olives:
Kalamata: Greek, dark purple to black olives with a rich, fruity flavor with a hint of bitterness. They are popular for Greek salads and Mediterranean dishes.
Castelvetrano: Bright green Italian olives with a sweet and buttery flavor.
Spanish: Green olives, typically larger and firmer than black olives with a mildly briny and slightly tangy flavor.
Nicoise: Small, dark olives originating from France with a distinct, intense flavor.
Cerignola: Large, meaty, Italian olives that come in both green and black varieties. They have a mild, slightly sweet flavor.

How do I julienne fresh basil leaves?

Julienning fresh basil leaves is a way to cut them into thin, long strips for use in salads or other dishes. Here is a step-by-step guide for how to julienne:
1. Wash the basil: Rinse the leaves under cold water and pat them dry.
2. Stack the leaves: Gather a 4-6 basil leaves together on a clean cutting board, stacking them neatly.
3. Roll the leaves: Roll the stacked leaves tightly into a cigar-like shape.
4. Julienne the leaves: Hold the rolled leaves firmly with one hand and, using a sharp knife with your other hand, make thin, parallel cuts across the rolled leaves. to create fine julienne strips.
5. Use immediately: Basil can quickly oxidize and turn brown, so it's best to use the julienned basil immediately in your dish.

Panzanella toscana on a platter.

Looking for some more sides with "main character energy?" Here are a few of my favorite scene stealers:

Tried this recipe and loved it? Take a photo and tag me on Instagram or give it a review!

Panzanella toscana on a serving plate.

Panzanella Toscana

Julie Hession
Leave it to the Italians to create a salad where the star ingredient is bread! This rustic Panzanella Toscana features toasted pieces of airy ciabatta along with a colorful variety of chopped vegetables, creamy mozzarella, and a zesty vinaigrette. Serve it as a hearty side or add a protein to make it a meal in itself.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings 12
Calories 278 kcal
5 from 5 votes
Print Recipe Pin Recipe

Ingredients
 
 

  • 1 lb loaf of Ciabatta or another rustic Italian bread
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 12 ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and sliced
  • ½ cup pitted Castelvetrano olives, sliced (see Notes)
  • ½ cup pitted Kalamata olives, sliced
  • ½ red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoon capers
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella balls (such as Ciliegine), halved
  • ½ cup fresh basil leaves, julienned
  • ½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (optional)

Dressing

  • 1 tablespoon whole grain or Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ tsp each salt and pepper

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 350 °F.
  • Slice bread into 1 inch (2.5 cm) cubes. In a bowl, toss bread cubes with olive oil . Sprinkle with thyme, salt, and pepper and toss to blend.
  • Spread cubes in one layer on a baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted, tossing once, about 15 minutes.
  • In a very large bowl, mix the tomatoes, red peppers, olives, red onion, capers, mozzarella, and basil. Add the bread cubes and toss to blend.
  • In a medium bowl or a glass measuring cup with a spout, whisk all of the dressing ingredients together.
  • Pour half of dressing over salad and toss to blend. Pour remaining dressing over salad to taste, a little bit at a time, tossing after each addition.
  • Let salad sit, covered, for 30 minutes, tossing occasionally to allow flavors to blend. Sprinkle with Pecorino Romano just before serving (optional.) Serve chilled or room temperature.

Video

Notes

  • I love to use a combination of buttery, green Castelvetrano olives and briny black Kalamata olives in this recipe.  But you can use any combination of olive varietals, so long as they have been pitted. 
  • The optional grated Pecorino Romano serves as a garnish prior to serving and adds another layer of salty flavor and texture.  You could also use grated Parmesan. 

Nutrition

Calories: 278kcal | Carbohydrates: 21g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 19g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Cholesterol: 11mg | Sodium: 864mg | Potassium: 93mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 317IU | Vitamin C: 15mg | Calcium: 135mg | Iron: 1mg
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6 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I don't think my fridge will ever be without a bowl of this! This has become my husband's favorite dish and he actually pouted when he ate the last bowl! It is so simple and delicous I don't mind whipping him up a batch when he runs out!

  2. 5 stars
    Wow, this sounds fantastic and very substantial! A nice combo of sweet and savory. I'm going to track down the pasta at Trader Joe's - the whole grain pastas are better than ever.

  3. 5 stars
    This one's going in my must-make-soon file! I adore every single one of these ingredients. (And I loved your comment about your husband and chips -- so true with my husband, too!)

  4. 5 stars
    Uh YUM! That looks so good, I love chickpeas and pasta together, one of my fave combinations... the raisins walnuts and cheese remind me of a summer-y salad, what better way than to combine them with the nutty pasta!

  5. 5 stars
    What a beautiful dish! We eat only WW pasta as well...I buy ours from Fresh Market as it tastes the best of all that we've tried so far. I'll pick up some of the WW+flax from TJ's the next time I'm there and give that a try - thanks for the tip!

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