Don't panic! We're officially still in Summer, and even if many may think that salads are for the hot Summer, we usually eat them all year round, but the one we bring you today is especially fresh and ideal for the summer: it the Panzanella!
The Panzanella is a typical Tuscan salad, and its recipe is very versatile, and may vary from household to household, like every traditional recipe. But there are three ingredients that you just cannot skip: the Tuscan hard bread, ripen tomatoes and basil.
In the Tuscan families' recipes you can easily find other ingredients (that you can skip if you want) like cucumber, capers, onion and a large etc...
At the end of the day, it's a different kind of salad, and you can enrich the fundamental ingredients with what you find in your fridge. We love to add mozzarella fresh cheese to everything and of course to salads too! If you thought that only the Caprese salad had the "mozz exclusive" you were wrong!
As a trivia, we can tell you that even if this dish is nowadays an entree or a first course or the perfect tupperware sala to bring with you for a picnic, many decades ago the Panzanella was the typical summer breakfast! They use to change it with the polenta during the Winter. Breakfast of champions for the landworkers that modeled the beautiful fields of Tuscany.
If you want to have a more accurate historical background of the birth of Panzanella, keep reading down here, if you don't, just read the recipe below the historical section! :)
The Panzanella is a dish that belogs to the so-called "cucina povera", the "cuisine of the poors" (that, by the way is the best ever in our humble opinion), and it's a easy bread & olive oil salad. It is a cousin of others mediterranean soups or minestrones, for instance the typical "Ribollita toscana", made with the cavolo nero toscano, a key ingredient that you probably have already known as "kale". Well, in Tuscany this fashonable healthy food has been eaten for century as a traditional dish. The Panzanella is also related with the "pappa al pomodoro", a tomato & bread soup very similar to the delicious Salmorejo Cordobes from Spain.
That said, the history of the Panzanella is quite large, and even if it's a simple dish, it has a lots of centuries on its shoulders. For instance, we find the Panzanella mentioned also in a XIV century masterpiece of European literature by Giovanni Boccaccio: the Decameron, which is believed to have inspired nothing less than Geoffrey Chaucers' "The Canterbury Tales", an all-time classic of english literature. You can find mentioned the Panzanella in the Decameron of Boccaccio in the Novel VII, day VIII, as a "washed bread", that is, wet.
Many others wrote about this delicious kind of salad, for instance an Old Master artist like the florentine painter Agnolo Bronzino, a true heavyweight of the Renaissance art. He during the 1500s was one of the main exponent of the so-called Manierismo, and he alternated his duty as a painter at the court of the Medicis with poetry, and he dedicated some beautiful verses to the Panzanella, that we write down here (in italian):
"chi vuol trapassar sopra le stelle di melodia v’aggiunga olio e aceto en’tinga il pane e mangi a crepapelle. Una insalata di cipolla trita colla porcellana e cetriuoli vince ogni altro piacer di questa vita, considerate un po’ s’aggiungessi bassilico e ruchetta."
"Those who wants to reach the melody of the stars above, add the olive oil and vinegar to the wet bread and gorge yourself with it. A salad made with minced onions and cucumbers is the highest pleasure in life, and think what would happen if to this salad I add also basil and arugula..."
It's worth to notice that in the Bronzino's lyrics there are no mentions of the tomato, and this is due to the fact that the tomato arrived in Europe just after the discover of America by Cristopher Columbus (thanks God for letting us living in the era of the tomatoes! What would be of us otherwise?)
Notice that Bronzino used the word "ruchetta", that how is called the arugula in many northern italian dialects, that later on become "ruquette" and then the standard british "rocket salad". Here is an interesting article of "Bon Appetit magazine" about the origin of the names of rocket salad/arugula.
The name "panzanella" maybe derivates to the word "panzana" that means something weak, soft, mushy, false, untrustworthy like a lie, for instance the word "panzana" in italian today means "hoax"
In this case, anyway, is not an hoax, the term refers to the mushy soft wet bread
Recipe: (for some 5 people)
- 300 or 400 gr. aprox. of Tuscan hard bread*
- 4 or 5 of ripen tomatoes
- 1 onion (in our case a red onion)
- 2 mozzarellas
- Extra virgin Olive oil
- White wine vinegar
*Tuscan hard bread: We can use almost every kind of rustic large loaf of bread. The main feature of the Tuscan bread is the complete lack of salt, and it's used mainly for recipes like the traditional bruschettas or minestrones, where the salty element is given by the topping or the other ingredients. Is frequently known as "pane sciocco", that is "fool bread", dumb, because of its unsalty, insipid taste.
1- Cut the bread into slices, we need hard, stale bread, not chewy bread from the day before. Put the slices of bread in a bowl with some water. It's not necessary to cover the bread with the water, just let it hydrate little by little, during a few minutes.
2- While hydrating the bread, mince all the ingredients. Many wet the onions with cold water, in order to let it lose its stinging flavour, but we love this trademark feature of the red onions. Of course, you can use also white or golden onions, the one you love best. Cut into slices also the tomatoes and the mozzarella.
3- Drain the bread and crumble it with hands, then add it all to the bowl. The basil and the mozzarella are excellent too if tore apart with hands, y'know, in the kitchen everything's better if made with hands! Add the salt to taste, and dress it with olive oil and vinegar (better if it's not the red wine vinegar, because otherwise it will colour the bread). Enjoy it!
It's the kind of salad just perfect for picnics, as a side dish for some protein meal, to put into a tupperware and bring it to the shore. And as we mentioned before, it's not just for the Summer, the panzanella can be a really complete food, very easy and quick to prepare during our everyday working routine.