Summer Panzanella

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Summer Panzanella, a dish that epitomizes the essence of summer with its bright colors and fresh flavors, is a classic Italian salad that has found its way into the hearts of food lovers around the globe. This rustic yet elegant dish is traditionally made with stale bread and ripe tomatoes, and it’s a perfect example of how simple ingredients can be transformed into a delightful meal.

The origins of Panzanella are rooted in the picturesque regions of Tuscany and other parts of central Italy, where it began as a peasant dish. It was a practical solution for using up leftover bread, which was moistened to soften it and then mixed with the juiciest tomatoes one could find. Over time, this humble beginning has evolved, and today’s Summer Panzanella is a celebration of the garden’s bounty, incorporating a variety of fresh vegetables, herbs, and sometimes even fruits.

What makes Summer Panzanella so special is its versatility. While the core ingredients remain bread and tomatoes, the salad often features additional elements like cucumbers, red onions, and sweet peppers, all of which add to its refreshing taste. The bread, preferably a robust type such as ciabatta or sourdough, is typically torn into bite-sized pieces and toasted to achieve a satisfying crunch that contrasts beautifully with the juicy produce.

The dressing for Summer Panzanella is another critical component. A simple vinaigrette made with extra virgin olive oil, vinegar—often red wine or balsamic—and a touch of garlic is the traditional choice. This light dressing coats the ingredients, marrying the flavors together without overpowering the natural taste of the vegetables. Some variations might include a hint of mustard or a sprinkle of capers for an additional zing.

Herbs play a significant role in adding depth to the salad. Basil is the most common herb used, lending its aromatic sweetness to the dish. However, other herbs like parsley, thyme, or oregano can also be included to complement the primary flavors. The key is to use fresh herbs, as they are more potent and will infuse the salad with their essential oils.

The beauty of Summer Panzanella lies not only in its flavors but also in its presentation. The vibrant reds of the tomatoes, the cool greens of cucumber and basil, the purples and whites of onion—all these create a visual feast that is as appealing to the eye as it is to the palate. When arranged on a platter, it’s a dish that can hold its own at any summer gathering, from casual picnics to elegant dinner parties.

Nutritionally, Summer Panzanella is a powerhouse. Tomatoes are rich in vitamins C and K, potassium, and the antioxidant lycopene. Cucumbers provide hydration and additional vitamins, while the onions offer fiber and prebiotics, which are beneficial for gut health. The olive oil in the dressing contributes healthy fats, which are essential for heart health. And let’s not forget the bread, which adds a comforting carbohydrate element that makes the salad more substantial.

One of the joys of making Summer Panzanella is that it encourages creativity. There are no strict rules, and it’s a dish that invites experimentation. Some may choose to add grilled vegetables for a smoky flavor, or perhaps some protein like mozzarella, feta cheese, or even grilled chicken to make it a complete meal. Others might toss in fruits like peaches or nectarines for a sweet contrast. The possibilities are endless, and each variation brings something new to the table.

Despite its simplicity, there are a few tips to keep in mind when assembling a Summer Panzanella. First, use the best quality ingredients you can find—ripe, in-season produce will always yield the best results. Second, give the salad some time to rest before serving. This allows the bread to soak up the flavors of the dressing and the juices from the vegetables, creating a harmonious blend of tastes and textures.

Summer Panzanella is more than just a recipe; it’s a canvas for culinary expression that captures the essence of summer dining. It’s a testament to the power of simple, fresh ingredients and the magic that happens when they come together. Whether enjoyed in a sun-drenched Tuscan field or in your own backyard, Summer Panzanella is a dish that embodies the joy of eating with the seasons—a timeless classic that continues to enchant with every colorful, flavorful bite.

Summer Panzanella

Summer Panzanella is a fresh, vibrant bread salad bursting with the flavors of ripe tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, and aromatic basil.
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 6 servings


  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more for brushing
  • 2 3/4 “-thick slices country bread
  • 1 medium zucchini or summer squash halved
  • 1/2 large red onion cut into 4 wedges
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 4 cups diced mixed tomatoes such as heirloom, vine-ripened, cherry, and grape
  • 1 cup cubed fresh mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves torn into bite-size pieces


  • Heat grill to medium-high and oil the grates. Brush bread, zucchini, and onion all over with oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • Grill bread and veggies until bread is lightly charred and toasted, 30 seconds to 1 minute per side, and zucchini and onion are lightly charred and crisp-tender, 3 minutes per side.
  • Transfer grilled bread, zucchini, and onion to a work surface. Rub garlic on both cut sides of the bread, then let everything cool slightly.
  • Cut bread into bite-size cubes, thinly slice zucchini crosswise, and chop onion.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together oil and the vinegar, then season with salt and pepper. Add bread cubes, zucchini, onion, tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. Toss to combine and drizzle with balsamic glaze before serving.
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