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Tuscan summer recipes: Panzanella

15-07-2018

Eating well in the summer can be difficult when the heat makes you want to give up cooking on the stove, but there is a traditional Tuscan dish that will solve this problem and will also stimulate the most refined palates, despite its simplicity: it’s Panzanella!

A fresh and substantial dish, Panzanella is very popular and in the summer months you will find it on all the Florentine tables.
In the old times nothing was thrown away and people had to make do with what was left in the pantry to feed a family. So one had to be creative and it was from the very creativity of housewives and maids and the recovery of stale bread that the Panzanella was born; just as it had happened for other famous dishes of the Tuscan cuisine in which the leftover bread is the great protagonist, such as pappa al pomodoro or ribollita.
This recipe has very ancient origins; the so called "pan lavato" (washed bread) is mentioned by Boccaccio in the fourteenth century, and the painter Agnolo di Cosimo known as the Bronzino, even wrote some rhymes in honor of this dish:

Ma chi vuol trapassar sopra le stelle,
Di melodia, v’aggiunga olio e aceto
E’ntinga il pane e mangi a tira pelle.
(… ) Un insalata di cipolla trita
Colla porcellanetta e citriuoli
Vince ogni altro piacer di questa vita.
Questo trapassa l’amor de’ fagiuoli,
E d’amici, e di donne, che con essi
T’ammazzeresti per due boccon soli.
Considerate un po’ s’aggiungessi
Basilico e ruchetta, oh per averne
Non è contratto che non si facessi.

Bronzino does not mention tomatoes because, only recently arrived in Europe from America, they were still not used in the kitchen but only as ornamental plants; however, he puts among the ingredients the "porcellanetta" or porcelain herb or portulaca that today is no longer used, but once it was an invasive plant that was found in large quantities in the fields; and the ruchetta, or more commonly known as arugula salad.
Typically Tuscan, Florentine in particular, the Panzanella recipe spread at the beginning of the 19th century also in other regions of central Italy and it was declined in several variants.
The main ingredients remain bread, tomatoes, basil, onion, oil and vinegar; but the cucumber, always present in the Florentine recipe, is not appreciated in Siena.
Someone adds celery, others enrich it with seasonal vegetables, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, capers and cheese, but we will give you the traditional recipe of Florence, it will be up to you then to get creative with the ingredients according to your taste.

PANZANELLA (for 4 people):

400 g of stale homemade Tuscan bread
4 ripe salad tomatoes
2 red onions
1-2 cucumbers
A bunch of rocket salad or other salad
Basil
Red wine vinegar
Olive oil
salt

Cut the onions finely, put them in a bowl, cover them with vinegar and cold water in equal parts and let them rest for 20 minutes. This will make them less pungent and more delicate.
Meanwhile, cut the bread into pieces or thick slices, put it in a bowl or sieve and put it under cold water until it is soaked. Then squeeze it well so that it is not soggy and reduce it into pieces and coarse crumbs.
Add the tomatoes cut into pieces, some basil leaves, the cucumbers cut into slices, and finally drain the onions and add those as well.
Season with plenty of oil, a drizzle of vinegar and salt. Stir and leave to rest in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.

Serve this delicious and fresh Panzanella with a glass of fine red wine and you will make your guests happy!

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