In what may seem like wizardry, rock-hard stale French or Italian bread may be transformed into a tasty meal when teamed with vine-ripened tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Panzanella, a summer salad with its roots in Tuscany, is such a dish, created from ingredients that would otherwise go to waste, are easy to obtain and, with the exception of high-quality EVOO, are very low in cost. In Italy, where EVOO is inexpensive, those virtues make panzanella bona fide peasant fare — a kind of cuisine that is popping up in the trendiest of restaurants all over America. In its most basic (and authentic) form, Tuscan panzanella consists of nothing more than stale bread, tomatoes, red onion, red wine vinegar, olive oil and basil, but many panzanella variations exist. I enjoy panzanella with fresh mozzarella and grated parmesan cheese. A friend’s version includes grilled shrimp. Regardless of your preference, good bread (the crusty, hearty kind) is always the headliner in panzanella, with tomatoes and EVOO, a close second and third. Working well as a main dish, or side dish, a respectable panzanella is only as good as its parts — so the bread — even that which has evolved into the stalest of the stale, must be top notch.
Sue Ade is a syndicated food writer with broad experience and interest in the culinary arts. She has worked and resided in the Lowcountry of South Carolina since 1985 and may be reached at email@example.com.