Panzanella, the Tomato and Bread Salad

Keep the summer a bit longer with this classic salad. There is something so special about the combination of ripe tomatoes, fresh herbs and crunchy bread brought together by a sweet and tangy dressing. It will become your favorite, too!Panzanella Salad in a bowlSchool is in a full swing here but I still feel like I’m behind with many things. Now that both my boys go to the same school (3rd grade and Kindergarten) it should be easier. But it’s not. Getting everyone ready and on time and preparing two different lunches is a challenge. My younger son gets his favorite PB & J sandwich everyday but he never eats it because he “wasn’t hungry that much”. He will drink his yogurt, eat some fruit and crackers and that’s all. So, I eat his sandwich when he gets home because… it’s a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after all! Who doesn’t like that?! Each morning I ask myself if I should make him another sandwich. And I do, just in case he decides he is hungry enough.

My older son goes through different phases regarding his lunch food. But a sandwich is never an option. Last year I gave in and allowed him to buy lunches at the cafeteria but after about a month he was done.  I tried the school’s lunch once or twice and didn’t like it at all. The menu always looks good but in reality it is pretty bad. Can we get Jamie Olivier to come visit our school, please? Lunchables were ok for a while but a) they are not healthy, b) they are expensive – $3 for a juice pouch, a few pieces of chicken nuggets and a candy! So, for this school year I made a pledge to make him healthy and tasty lunches. So far, so good. I often pack him dinner leftovers, pasta and meatballs, broccoli and beef with rice. The other day I packed him some leftover barbecued tri-tip slices and some fresh pineapple pieces and he loved it. Two days ago I tried making a whole wheat Calzones with marinara sauce and cheese. Surprisingly, he liked them more than I did. I need to tweak the recipe a bit and then will make a post about it. Making vegetarian sushi is super easy, too! I feel like I should have a separate category about kids’ lunches. Hmmm…

Chopped tomatoesToday’s recipe is one of my all around favorites. Panzanella is a Tuscan salad incorporating stale, typically a day old bread with lots of tomatoes, fresh herbs and other vegetables. The combination of flavors and textures is simply wonderful. You have crunchy bread pieces, sun-ripened tomatoes, olives, celery, a bit of red onion, tons of fresh basil and arugula drizzled with a mustard and red wine vinegar dressing. Can you smell it yet? What’s even better about this salad is that it can be made differently each time, depending on what ingredients you have at home. There are  some rules to follow when making Panzanella:

  1. For a rustic look, cut the bread into 1-inch slices and then tear the slices apart to have different size pieces. Place them on a baking sheet and air dry for 2-3 hrs (if you are planning in advance), or roast in the oven at 400 degrees for 5-7 minutes (until crunchy and golden) or fry on the skillet with a bit of olive oil. Set aside to cool down.
  2. The ratio of  bread : tomatoes is 1:3. So, tomatoes are the star here, not the other way around.
  3. Keep a handful of bread cubes on the side and add them at the very end so there is an additional crunch. The bread doesn’t get soggy at all, it only softens while soaking up the juices and dressing.

There are many, many options you can add to this salad. Try using a Sourdough, Italian, Ciabatta or any other bread. I prefer Sourdough.toasted bread crumbsThe more flavorful the tomatoes are, the better. Use different varieties for added sweetness and presentation. Basil, mint and parsley are all good options when adding herbs.

chopped tomatoes on a cutting boardAs far as choosing your mix-ins, pick up to 3 and use about 1 cup of each. Good options are: olives, sliced celery sticks, red onions, bell peppers, cucumbers, hearts of palm, sun-dried tomatoes and capers. Adding a handful of arugula, spinach or kale is important, too.

If you are making Panzanella for lunch or as a main dish you can always incorporate some proteins in there. Canned tuna, hard boiled eggs, leftover sliced chicken or steak or even cooked pancetta will be delicious here. Let’s not forget about adding cheese, like crumbled goat, feta or mozzarella. Dijon-Red Wine vinegar derssingDressing for this salad is what brings all the flavors together. In addition to a Dijon mustard and red wine vinegar, we add some grated lemon zest and a touch of honey. Whisk all of the ingredients in a bowl and pour over the salad. Stir well and let it sit for at least 20 minutes. Right before serving add the saved bread cubes.

Tomatoes, bread, olives, celery saladServes: 4               Prep time: 30 minutes           Ready in : 50 minutes


  • 1/2 loaf of bread, sliced, cubed, toasted
  • 1.5 lbs ripe tomatoes, cubed
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup fresh basil, parsley or mint, chopped
  • 3 celery sticks, sliced
  • 1 cup black olives, halved
  • 1/4 cup red onion, very thinly sliced
  • 2-3 handfuls of arugula
  • 1/3 cup goat cheese, crumbled


  • zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the bread and break apart each slice. Place the cubes on the baking sheet and toast for 5-7 minutes until crunchy. Alternatively, toast them in a skillet, stirring often. Set aside.
  2. Cut the tomatoes into 1 inch pieces, chop or tear fresh basil, slice celery sticks, halve the olives. Place into a large bowl. Add the bread cubes, setting a handful aside, and stir well. Thinly slice the red onion and place in the bowl. Add arugula. Stir again.
  3. Dressing: in a small bowl, zest the lemon, then add the mustard, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add the honey, whisk again and pour over the salad. Stir well and set aside for at least 20 minutes.
  4. Before serving, add the crumbled goat cheese and the remaining bread cubes. Stir again and serve.



  1. Pingback: Skirt Steak with Garlic Butter | It's Cooking with Magda

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