This grilled panzanella is a riff on classic Tuscan bread salad, an Italian staple that tosses day-old bread with tomatoes and olive oil. It tastes spectacularly complex for something so simple. And just wait’ll you try this version with grilled bread. No waiting for bread to go stale. Still frugal. And fabulous.
The panzanella recipe below makes a truly lovely and rustic Tuscan bread salad. Although in the spirit of full disclosure, we confess, it takes a few liberties with tradition. Authentic panzanella relies on day-old bread that’s hard so that it readily soaks up the tomato juices. This panzanella recipe first grills the slices of bread to add a little complexity to things. (Bonus! It also means you don’t have to wait for your loaf to turn hard if you’re the impatient sort.) The recipe strays even further from tradition by tossing in some fresh mozzarella because, well, when is fresh mozzarella ever a bad thing? We don’t think you’ll mind the untraditional tweaks. We certainly don’t.–David Leite
Grilled Panzanella Salad
- 2 pounds assorted heirloom tomatoes cut into 1-inch (25-mm) chunks (about 8 cups)
- 1/2 cup red onion finely chopped
- 8 or more basil leaves cut into thin strips (or chiffonade if you want to sound fancy)
- 1 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt plus more as needed
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 6 ounces crusty, rustic-style bread cut into slices 1/2 inch (12 mm) thick
- 1 garlic clove peeled and halved
- 4 to 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cut into small chunks
- Red wine vinegar (optional)
- In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, onion, basil, olive oil, and salt, and season with a few turns of freshly ground black pepper. Let sit at room temperature until the juices from the tomatoes release and create a kind of dressing, about 30 minutes. (We know. You're in a rush. But trust us when we tell you waiting a half hour makes quite a difference in terms of allowing the flavors to meld.)
- Meanwhile, preheat your grill to medium.
- Lightly brush both sides of each slice of bread with olive oil and season with a pinch of salt. Grill the bread, turning once, until slightly toasted and golden brown, 1 to 3 minutes per side. Remove the bread from the heat and rub the toasted bread all over with the cut side of the garlic.
- Cut the grilled bread into 1/2-inch chunks. You can set the grilled bread aside at room temperature for a while if you’re not eating right away.
- When ready to serve, toss the tomato mixture with the mozzarella and grilled bread and divide the panzanella among 4 plates. Taste and adjust the amounts of oil, salt, or pepper accordingly and, if desired, dribble with vinegar and toss again. Serve at once so the bread doesn’t turn soggy.
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We’d love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This panzanella recipe was the perfect way to celebrate the first day of summer. Even with regular grocery-store tomatoes, it was delicious, so I imagine that homegrown or heirloom tomatoes would take the dish to another level. It took about 30 minutes to pull together at a very relaxed pace—you could definitely multitask and get another element of the meal done at the same time if you’re not serving this on its own. Having said that, I think this would work best on its own, as the portions were large—perhaps as an alfresco lunch?
When I make this again, I might add more basil, but my fellow tester thought it was perfectly balanced as is. My only word of warning is that the garlic bread is powerful— in other words, make sure everyone at the party has a serving of this.
To me, this panzanella recipe is summer perfection in a bowl. As with anything so simple, the quality of the dish is entirely dependent on the quality of your tomatoes and cheese. There were no heirloom tomatoes available at my market, but there was a wonderful selection of local yellow and orange tomatoes, as well as some multicolored cocktail and cherry tomatoes. I used an assortment of these and the best-quality fresh mozzarella available. Together the tomatoes and soft cheese contrasted wonderfully with the toasted bread.
You do need to watch the bread closely on the grill—15 seconds was all the difference between toasted and burned. We ate this along with some chicken drumsticks, and as a side dish, there was way too much for 4 people. This salad would serve 4 as a main dish and serve 6 as a side. I let the tomatoes sit for 20 minutes, which seemed adequate. I cut the bread into 1/2-inch pieces as indicated in the recipe, but next time, I think I’ll just tear it into bigger chunks, maybe 1-inch pieces. I think the bread would stand up a little longer to all the juices that way.
This recipe makes a huge and refreshing panzanella salad. I think with a little tweaking, it will be in heavy rotation during the lazy hot days of summer.
We did run into a couple minor setbacks. 8 cups tomatoes is A LOT of tomatoes. And the only fresh mozzarella I could find on the day I went shopping was pre-sliced. As someone in my house is sensitive to wheat, I made the base salad and grilled 2 types of bread: gluten-free and ciabatta. Both types of bread worked well on the grill.
This is a salad that you should toss at the table, as the bread becomes soggy quite quickly, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I don’t think leftovers would be any good. We also felt the salad could use more onion, pepper, basil, and salt. The mozzarella didn’t stand up well to the tossing, but that was because of the kind of cheese I got. Next time, I’ll go with bocconcini, as we love it in salads, and it’s a cheese that’s readily available here. (You also wouldn’t have to cut the cheese, which is a bonus.) Making this gluten-free wasn’t difficult, as all I had to do was use a gluten-free bread and toss it separately with the salad. Once the aforementioned tweaks are incorporated, I think this recipe will be spectacular.
The salad took about 15 minutes hands-on time and 20 minutes waiting time. This recipe made 6 rather generous dinner-size portions.
This was a nice take on panzanella. I make panzanella quite a lot in the summertime when tomatoes are at their peak. As good as this was, I’m sure that it would’ve been even better if heirlooms were in season right now. Be that as it may, this was actually a good use for tomatoes that weren’t quite there yet.
My tomato mixture sat in the bowl for about 30 minutes before I got to grilling the bread. The flavors melded quite well. I had been concerned that the onion would overpower the tomatoes, but that was not the case. The garlic bread was very tasty indeed. I did make more than the recipe called for, because how can one not make extra garlic bread? I cut some of it into cubes as called for in the recipe. Those I added to the salad along with the mozzarella. The rest of the bread I cut into long pieces for garlic “breadsticks,” which I arranged around the outside of the bowl. It made a very pretty presentation, and the breadsticks were fun to stick into the salad and then bite into. I look forward to being able to make this again when a wide range of heirlooms are available. This salad will be striking with all the colors of the heirloom rainbow.
I’ve had some excellent panzanella in my day. There’s actually a panzanella I had in Boston that I consider my gold standard. Ripe tomatoes, perfectly toasted and crunchy bread, and a delicious but not overpowering dressing. I still think about that salad and smile.
I cut up a nice bunch of ripe heirloom, yellow, and cherry tomatoes. I added my best extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, onion, and basil. After I gave the salad a toss, I let it sit for about 15 minutes. I made the mistake of using a pre-sliced loaf from the grocery store, and even though I tossed it with the tomatoes at the last minute, the bread immediately turned soggy. I’m definitely a crisp crouton lover, so I wasn’t happy with the texture of the bread in this salad. But I don’t think this is an issue with the recipe. If I’d been able to use thicker slices of bread and grilled them longer, I think the texture would’ve been a lot better.
This was the best recipe I’ve tested so far. Since we aren’t in prime tomato season in the Northeast, I used a mixture of UglyRipe beefsteak and Campari tomatoes. This worked very well because the 2 different varieties have distinct tastes. I let the tomatoes sit with the other ingredients for 20 minutes. The tomatoes released a lot of liquid, but that wasn’t a problem.
I used an 11-ounce ciabatta bread. (I weighed out 6 ounces on my kitchen scale.) The whole recipe came together in 35 minutes, including marinating the tomatoes. I will definitely make this again!
Mix the first 6 ingredients and let the flavors marinate while you prepare the rest of the salad. The result is a bread salad worth savoring. The grilled garlic bread takes this wonderful panzanella recipe to a new level. If you want leftovers, save some of the bread before you toss the salad and store it separately.
This was an easy panzanella recipe that was also incredibly flavorful. While this was like a Caprese salad, having the ingredients cut into smaller pieces made it a little different.
My tasters liked the addition of the chopped red onion as opposed to large pieces of onion. I let the tomato mixture sit for 20 minutes, and the 1/2-inch pieces of bread were big enough to not get overwhelmed by the dressing. My only concern was that this was supposed to make 4 servings. It would definitely serve 4 as a main dish for lunch, but there wasn’t enough protein to make it a meal for me. As a side salad, it would serve 8.
While this panzanella recipe defeats the purpose of making use of stale bread, grilling the bread really does create a superior taste. It was sort of a combination of how I learned to make bruschetta and panzanella while living in Italy. While I found the proportions to be a little off, you can successfully mix and match quantities as well as easily add ingredients (olives, peppers, maybe some vinegar).
But make sure everything you’re using is high quality. I’d recommend dumping out some of the juice released by the tomatoes if there’s a lot to avoid a soggy salad. I’d also suggest searing that bread with abandon. I used 2 pounds or about 5 cups uncut Campari tomatoes (no heirlooms available), which was plenty. I used a bit more than 1 tablespoon oil.
The grilled garlic bread adds nice texture and flavor to the salad. The recipe takes about 20 minutes of hands-on time plus about 20 minutes for the flavors to marinate at room temperature. I think this recipe has some flexibility in terms of adjusting the ratio of ingredients based on personal preference, i.e. I would’ve liked a little less bread and a bit more tomatoes and basil. And if the salad appears dry after all of the ingredients are combined, feel free to add a little extra olive oil. I also would’ve preferred to salt the tomatoes rather than the bread. Salt really brings out the flavor of tomatoes. The bread already has salt, so it’s not really necessary. Salting both might make the dish too salty, but the tomatoes seemed a little bland without being salted.
Originally published August 23, 2020
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
This panzanella recipe was one of the most flavorful and fragrant summer recipes I’ve ever made. The method was so easy and the ingredients easy to come by and cheap, yet this recipe was absolutely fantastic and so much more than the sum of its parts.
I combined the tomato, onion, basil, oil, and salt, added black pepper that I crushed in a mortar and pestle, and let everything sit for 25 minutes at room temperature. It’s very fragrant both at this stage and when storing, so any tomato-haters in the vicinity, be warned. Meanwhile, I preheated the grill to medium and brushed each slice of bread with olive oil. I discarded the heels of the bread and used only slices from the middle portions of the loaf. I grilled the bread for about 4 minutes on each side, but the last few pieces took only about 3 minutes. I rubbed the bread on each side with the garlic—this was easiest on the pieces of bread that got a little more charred towards the end of the grilling. I cut the bread into about 1/2-inch chunks and tossed it with the tomato mixture.
At first I was worried about the bread cubes being too large, but after they sat with the tomatoes and soaked up some of the juices, the larger chunks were actually better because they soaked up a lot of juice yet managed to stay crisp. The garlic bread cubes were the real highlight—so tasty and flavorful but not overpowering.