Tuscan Panzanella is a zesty bread salad and summer staple in and around Montefollonico.

Usually made with cubes of crusty Italian bread, tomatoes, basil, cucumbers and a simple splash of vinegar and olive oil, it is infinitely customizable.

The beauty of this recipe is that you can add or subtract ingredients to suit any taste. It’s one of those dishes that never disappoints.

Panzanella is a beloved recipe featured in the Tuscan Women Cook program, taught by nonne who share their cherished generational dishes throughout the week-long experience.  Tuscan Women Cook is the premier culinary immersion vacation in the heart of Tuscany. For 24 years they have been welcoming guests to Montefollonico and into the aroma-filled kitchens of the nonneOwner and host Coleen Kirnan and her team guide visitors through the breathtaking Tuscan landscapes, rich history, and cultural treasures.

To make Tuscan panzanella at home, be open to experimenting with what is seasonal and fresh at the farmer’s market. Perhaps there are baby zucchini available. Slice them thinly to add to the salad, along with fresh blossoms too. If your garden is full of early radishes, slice those and add them. Any kind of allium works well to add spark to the salad as does radicchio. Minced chives, slivers of fresh green onion or sliced sweet onions are welcome. Minced anchovies, diced smoked fish, capers and other briny ingredients are good additions. Cheese adds richness and a counterpoint to any salty taste.

The nonne of Tuscan Women Cook like the addition of fresh mozzarella or cubes of pecorino. For variety, look for Ciliegine cherry-sized mozzarella balls or the tiny pearl-sized balls.  Here we have charred the onions for depth of flavor. And we have found a way to add a burst of basil by making a dressing from pesto sauce. (Make your own or use a superior quality prepared one.) It might seem odd to toast bread only to moisten it as we have done in this recipe. We find it adds more texture to our salad and yet another layer of flavor, but you can omit this step if you prefer.

Panzanella with Pesto Dressing

Servings: 8


For the Pesto Dressing:

  • ¼ cup Pesto Sauce * homemade or purchased
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar

For the Salad:

  • Half a large loaf of stale Italian bread, cubed, about 6 cups
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • ½ red onion, cut into thin edges
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 24 cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 24 pitted green olives, such as Frantic
  • ½ cup Italian flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 24 small cherry-size mozzarella balls, about 6 ounces, halved
  • 1 small head radicchio
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • red wine vinegar, to taste
  • extra virgin olive oil


For the Salad:

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Toss the bread cubes with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Spread it out on to a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes until partially dried out. 

Place the toasted bread into a large bowl. Add the water and red wine vinegar and toss.

Spread the red onion slices out onto the baking sheet. Drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil. Roast for 10 minutes stirring halfway through until the onion softens and browns lightly. Scrape the onion into the bowl with the bread.

Add the cherry tomatoes, olives, parsley and mozzarella. Shred the radicchio leaves and add them to the bowl. Add the dressing and toss. Adjust the seasonings with salt, pepper, vinegar and olive oil if needed.

* Pesto Sauce

4 to 5 cups loosely packed basil leaves

3 cloves garlic

Pinch salt

¼ cup olive oil

1/3 cup toasted pine nuts or walnuts

3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Place the basil leaves into the beaker of a blender with the garlic, salt, and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Blend to a purée. Add the pine nuts, parmesan and remaining olive oil. Blend until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning adding more oil if necessary.

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