Panzanella is a traditional salad of bread and tomatoes that can be found throughout Tuscany and parts of Central Italy each summer. Panzanella is a prime example of how the Italians waste nothing; day old bread and the bounty of garden tomatoes that late summer brings are transformed into a salad which in fact could serve as a meal. Panzanella with Tuna is a variation which includes Italian style chunks of tuna, adding not only a protein to the dish, but an additional flavor element.
Our garden has not produced the bumper crop of tomatoes we generally look forward to, but I must say that the quality of the tomatoes has been excellent; each variety being meaty, flavorful and sweet. One of the greatest pleasures in having a tomato garden is being able to share a basket of sun warmed tomatoes with friends. I so enjoy hearing about the many creative ways in which they use them, starting with a simple tomato & mayo sandwich.
The classic recipe for Panzanella calls for day old or stale bread which is to be soaked and squeezed dry. Although I do use day old bread, my preference is to toast the bread followed by a rub of garlic. The salad is further enhanced by rubbing the serving bowl with a garlic clove and salt before adding some Extra Virgin Olive Oil to absorb the garlic essence.
A key ingredient for Panzanella with Tuna, actually any Panzanella, is red wine vinegar. Once again I am indebted to Mio Marito for his private label red wine vinegar which he has been producing from the original mother for more than 24 years. The small French oak barrel that he started with has be coddled through numerous moves and remodels, continuing to provide us with a superior quality vinegar.
When preparing Panzanella with Tuna, it is important that the red onion is thinly sliced. Take your time when slicing the onion, being certain that you have created a flat surface to firmly base the onion. If you have a Mandoline slicer, by all means use it. And I hope it goes without saying – please use a good brand of imported Italian tuna packed in olive oil
Panzanella with Tuna is an easy, inexpensive twist on a Tuscan favorite and makes the perfect summertime dinner.
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- 8 to 12 ounces of day old country bread, bottom crust removed
- 1 cup thinly sliced red onion
- 2½ pounds of garden tomatoes, washed, dried and cut into large cubes
- 1 large bunch of basil, leaves carefully removed and stems discarded or reserved for soup.
- 4 Tbs. red wine vinegar
- ½ cup plus 3 Tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 1 large garlic clove peeled and sliced in half
- ⅓ cup pitted black olives
- 1 heaping Tbs. of capers - preferably packed in salt and well rinsed
- 14 ounces of Italian tuna packed in olive oil
- Kosher salt for seasoning the salad bowl
- Large flake sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the broiler and slice the day old country bread into ¾ to 1 inch slices. Place the sliced bread onto a baking sheet and toast until deep brown on both sides. Pierce the sliced clove of garlic with a fork and as soon as the toasted bread is removed from the broiler, rub each side with the garlic.
- Place the crushed garlic cloves and some kosher salt into the serving bowl you intend to use for the finished salad. Using the back of a fork, rub the interior surface of the bowl with the garlic, the salt will act as an abrasive. Gather the residual pieces of garlic and salt to the center of the bowl and add the 3 Tbs. of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
- Marinate the thinly sliced red onion with 2 Tbs. of the red wine vinegar and let sit for at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour.
- Once the seasoned and toasted bread is cool, tear the slices into irregular pieces about 2 inches long. Place the bread pieces into a large mixing bowl and toss with ¼ cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 1 Tbs. red wine vinegar, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Combine well and allow the bread to sit for about 10 minutes.
- Tear the basil leaves into 2 or 3 pieces each. Remove the tuna from the cans or jar.
- Begin to build your salad, first removing the large pieces of garlic that remain at the bottom of the bowl; it is fine to let a few small fragments remain. Start to layer the ingredients beginning with the cubed tomatoes seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Follow with a layer thinly sliced red onions, bread pieces and torn basil leaves. Repeat the process until you have used all of the tomatoes, onions, and bread.
- Break the tuna into large chunks and scatter over the top of the salad. Follow with the black olives and capers along with the remaining basil leaves. Drizzle the remaining ¼ cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and 1 Tbs. of red wine vinegar. Allow the salad to sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour before serving. Bring the salad to the table, toss well and serve.