Salt & Wind Travel

Classic Panzanella Salad

Do you also adore the classic Panzanella salad? This delightful dish hails from Tuscany and central Italy and is a summer time classic. 

Rooted in peasant culture, or a style of cooking known as cucina povera, panzanella is a testament to the regional cuisines resourceful yet flavorful culinary traditions. The classic panzanella salad is all about maximizing your food as it historically uses stale bread and overly-ripe vegetables that would otherwise go to waste. Over time, the classic panzanella salad has become well-known by travelers to Tuscany and is a much-anticipated dish when tomatoes are at their peak.

When I lived in Tuscany, I ate this salad every chance I got. Florence can get so hot and humid in the late summer that turning on the stove or eating a big meal is just unthinkable. These days, when I’m arranging Italy trip planning for our clients, I insist they try this along with the many other famous Tuscan foods

a bowl of food with a spoon

Why You’ll Love This

Panzanella is a stand out among other summer salads because it’s so simple to make and celebrates the best flavors of the season. This chilled salad is perfect for hot summer days because it’s light and satisfying.

This classic panzanella salad is also rather healthy as it’s packed with vitamins and nutrients from fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and basil. The panzanella you see in Tuscany varies a bit, with some people adding cucumbers and others breaking the bread up large chunks or even find crumbs.

If you want to get creative, you can tweak the classic recipe to suit your tastes with additions like olives, capers, salsa verde, or mozzarella. Or throw tradition out the door and make this Grilled Peach Panzanella

a group of tomatoes on a vine
loaf of bread half sliced with serrated knife and tomatoes

Classic Panzanella Salad Recipe Ingredients

What do you need to make a classic Panzanella recipe? Here’s a breakdown of the key ingredients:

  1. Stale Bread: The foundation of panzanella is bread and ideally Tuscan style (i.e. crusty bread without salt). The bread should be firm enough to soak up the dressing without becoming mushy. If you can’t find Tuscan bread, use ciabatta or another crusty bread. Or, if your bread is not stale, toast it just a few minutes before using. 
  2. Tomatoes: Ripe tomatoes are crucial as their juices add flavor to the dish. Varieties like sweet 100s, on-the-vine tomatoes, Early Girls, or beefsteak tomatoes are excellent choices.
  3. Red Onion: Red onions provide a sharp, tangy flavor. Our favorite are the Tropea variety you find in southern Italy, but they are hard to find the United States so use what you can find. Soaking the onions in vinegar mellows their bite.
  4. Basil: Fresh basil leaves add a fragrant, herbal note that enhances the dish.
  5. Vinegar: White wine vinegar gives the salad its characteristic tang. It’s essential for balancing the flavors. If you don’t have it, you can use white balsamic vinegar or Champagne vinegar. 
  6. Extra Virgin Olive Oil: A high quality olive oil brings richness and depth to the salad.
  7. Salt and Pepper: Simple seasonings to taste.
a hand pouring a glass of water into a bowl of food

How to Make This Recipe

How do you prepare a classic Panzanella salad? What are the key steps to ensure the best flavor and texture? Follow these straightforward steps:

  1. Prepare the Bread: Briefly soak the stale bread in a bit of water then squeeze out excess water and tear the bread into bite-sized pieces. 
  2. Prepare the Vegetables: Dice the tomatoes and thinly slice the red onion. Soak the onion in vinegar for a few minutes to soften its flavor.
  3. Combine Ingredients: Mix together the bread, tomatoes, and red onions. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and a bit more vinegar if needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss everything together gently to combine.
  4. Chill and Serve: Let the classic panzanella salad rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour then add in the basil just before serving. This chilling time allows the flavors to meld together, creating a more flavorful dish. 
bowl of bread salad with a spoon and glass of red wine on the side

Frequently Asked Questions

While traditional recipes call for unsalted Tuscan bread, any crusty, stale bread will work. Avoid soft bread like sandwich loaves, as they can become too mushy.

Yes, Panzanella actually benefits from being made a few hours ahead. This allows the flavors to meld. Just be sure to refrigerate it until serving.

Feel free to customize your panzanella with additions like olives, capers, mozzarella, grilled vegetables, or even grilled peaches. The versatility of this dish means you can get creative!

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What To Serve This With

Panzanella pairs beautifully with grilled meats such as chicken or Florentine steak, adding a fresh contrast to the smoky flavors. For a lighter option, serve classic panzanella salad alongside a platter of assorted Italian cheeses and charcuterie.

It also complements seafood dishes like grilled fish or seared scallops, enhancing the overall dining experience with its crisp and tangy elements. Additionally, classic panzanella salad can be served with a chilled glass of white wine or a light rosé, which accentuates the freshness of the salad.

Classic Panzanella Recipe

Cook up a taste of Italy with this classic Panzanella recipe! Perfectly balanced and bursting with fresh flavors like tomatoes, basil, and red onion, this traditional Tuscan salad is sure to become your go-to summer dish.
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Soaking Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4 servings
Calories 289 kcal


  • 1 pound ciabatta bread
  • 12 ounces tomatoes
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar divided
  • extra-virgin olive oil to taste
  • 1 handful fresh basil leaves
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  • Soak The Bread: To make the classic Panzanella recipe, cut the bread into 1/2-inch cubes then place in a large bowl. Moisten with 1 cup of water pressing lightly, then let the bread rest for at least 15 and up to 45 minutes.
  • Prepare The Onion: Slice the onion paper thin, place in a small bowl, and mix with 2 tablespoons of the vinegar. Let marinate for 15 minutes, stirring often. Drain off the vinegar and set aside.
  • Break Up The Bread: Crumble the soaked bread into a second bowl, if it is very wet, squeeze it lightly ro remove the water before adding it to the bowl. Add the drained onions then mix in the tomatoes.
  • Garnish The Salad: Let the panzanella rest in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour. Season the panzanella with 1/4 cup extra-virgin oil, the remaining vinegar, some freshly ground black pepper, and a large pinch of salt. Stir to combine, add in the basil, and stir once more.
    If you are using Tuscan bread, remember it is unsalted and season generously. If you prepare it the day before, avoid seasoning it to preserve the texture of the vegetables. Serve.



Serving: 1 servingCalories: 289kcalCarbohydrates: 59gProtein: 11gFat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0.5gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.1gMonounsaturated Fat: 0.03gSodium: 565mgPotassium: 248mgFiber: 3gSugar: 3gVitamin A: 709IUVitamin C: 14mgCalcium: 18mgIron: 0.4mg
Keyword Classic Salad, italian bread salad, tomato salad
Tried this recipe?Mention @saltandwind or tag #swsociety!

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