This is the classic Tuscan bread salad made at the height of tomato season. Tuscan bread goes stale very quickly so there are lots of recipes to use it up in flavorful ways. The success of the dish depends on using really flavorful, ripe tomatoes and a good olive oil. And you can use fresher bread if you don’t have stale—see directions below. You do need basil for this, though you can certainly add some chives as well, so I hope you have some in your garden or pick some up.
I know that when you order Panzanella in restaurants in the US you get toasted chunks of bread more like croutons, tossed with tomatoes, etc. This version is what I learned and ate in Tuscany. Please give it a try. The texture is completely different than what is served here but much more integrated and I think much better. Would love to hear reports if you make it.
4 cups diced stale bread (white or partial whole wheat is fine – Grand Central Como or Peasant is perfect for this or something similar—it just can’t be soft, enriched sandwich bread)
4 ripe and juicy medium tomatoes, cut into large dice
1 cup chopped cucumbers (if the lemon cukes are super juicy you could scoop out some of the seeds and discard)
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and roughly chopped
1/2 small red or yellow onion, very thinly sliced and soaked in cold water for 30 minutes, drained and patted dry, or ½ a small Walla Walla Sweet, thinly sliced (no need to soak since it’s so mild)
1-2 garlic cloves, minced or grated
2-3 tablespoons, chopped fresh basil
¼ - 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
If the bread is quite stale, soak it in water for 15 minutes (Tuscan bread gets much harder than the bread we typically have here) If it’s not terribly stale you can just sprinkle it with a bit of water to moisten it slightly.
Combine the vegetables, basil and garlic in a large salad bowl. When ready, drain the bread cubes (if you soaked them) and squeeze all the water out of them using your hands. Crumble the bread over the vegetables. In a small bowl, combine the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and stir well. Pour over salad and toss to combine really well. Adjust seasoning to taste. This salad should have a good vinegary kick and be strongly flavored with the basil, capers and garlic.