Tuscan-Style Tomato and Bread Salad with a Sweet Twist!Jump to Recipe
As the temperatures hits upper 90’s here in Texas, I make sure to prepare food that require limited time spent in the hot kitchen. This classic bread and tomato salad I’m about to share with you, is exactly that kind of food! I am talking about refreshing melon panzanella. It is a light, summery salad that can be turned hearty enough to be served as a light meal or supper. And serving salad for dinner is a great way to eat light. Believe my your tummies will thank you when you go easy on them, especially on hot summer days!
ORIGIN OF REFRESHING MELON PANZANELLA
Until the twentieth century, Panzanella was an onion based salad rather than tomatoes. And it was typically made with stale saltless bread that had been soaked in water and squeezed dry. Panzanella first appeared in the 16th century, when an Italian painter named Agnolo di Cosimo – also known as Bronzino – developed a taste for onions with oil and vinegar served with toast.
Most of the traditional Florentine recipes (Florence is the capital of Tuscany region) such as ribollita or pappa al pomodoro, Panzanella included, are made with the famous Tuscan saltless bread.
But why is the Tuscan bread saltless? There are two theories behind it:
- This first and the most famous theory dates back to the medieval period, when the cities of Florence and Pisa were rivals. Pisa restricted salt trade to Florence. In response, Florentine bakers continued to produce it without the salt. Isn’t that interesting?!
- Second theory goes, that the price of salt went up and people couldn’t afford it, so they continued to make bread without it. Nowadays, the bread is still saltless and plays an important role in Tuscan cuisine; it goes well with the salty taste of salami or ham, but also with the famous “pappa al pomodoro” or the refreshing Panzanella.
The name Panzanella is a portmanteau of “pane”, Italian for bread, and “zanella”, a deep plate in which it is served. This later transformed into a salad by the addition of purslane (a slightly sour and salty leaf vegetable popular throughout Europe) and cucumbers. For more on purslane follow this link.
This traditional salad is made using stale, dried bread that has been rehydrated in a dressing of sweet tomato juices, vinegar, and plenty of olive oil. Our recipe adds parmesan cheese for richness and cucumber for crispness. It’s a great recipe to make ahead of time. Traditionally it was recommended to use the stale bread, and let the combination of ingredients sit for a long time (up to 6 hours), to make it taste better.
There are 3 ingredients that sets our refreshing panzanella salad apart from the traditional recipe. First is the sweet, edible, and fleshy fruit from Cucurbitaceae family commonly known as, MELON. Second is the use of FRESH BREAD (baguette in this case). Third, is the BUTTER used to turn the baguettes crispy, on a pan on a slow heat. Butter not only helps turns the bread turn crispy golden brown but also gives a rich salty flavor, offsetting the sweetness of the melon and tanginess of the tomatoes.
I used fresh bread (baguette) only because I had guests coming over & thought of making an impromptu salad with the baguette. And as we know adding bread to any salad instantly makes it soggy. So I diced the baguette into bite sized chunks & tossed them with melted butter in a pan, till it turns crispy, golden brown croutons.
Generally if I have the opportunity & time, I visit the farmer’s market for vegetables and bread. While store bought works, there’s something about farmer’s market ingredients that makes it a little better.
Another tweaking I do while serving this salad is, to NOT mix the bread with the salad early on. I know it is non- traditional way of making the recipe but this is exactly what sets it apart! Trust me here!!
I mix all the ingredients except the bread and when it is time to serve, I put the bread into individual serving bowls & top it off the with salad. That way the croutons do not get too soggy & acts as a base that absorbs all the dressing while retaining it’s crispiness.
Ultimately the choice is yours – To mix the bread early on OR later! Why not try both ways and see what works for you? Let me know in the comments below!
Refreshing Melon Panzanella 2.0
- 1 Baguette, cut into about 1 inch slices
- ½ a Muskmelon, diced into 1 inch pieces or scooped into balls
- 1 Large handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- 2 Tbsps. Thinly sliced red onions, I used pearl onions
- 2 Persian cucumbers, chopped
- 1 Small handful of basil, roughly chopped plus more whole smaller leaves for garnish
- Parmesan cheese, few shavings as garnish
For the Dressing
- ¼ Cup of Balsamic vinegar
- ¼ Cup of Extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ Tsp Freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ Tsp Sea salt, season according to taste
- 1 Tsp Garlic, finely minced
- ½ Tsp Dijon mustard
For the Baguette:
- 6 Tbsp Butter, softened
- Herbs of your choice (I used chopped sage, basil and cilantro – 2 Tbsp each)
FOR THE BAGUETTE:
- Combine 1/4 cup of butter and herbs of your choice and mix.
- Spread on one side of bread.
- Grill the bread, buttered-side down first, on a regular pan or grill pan.
- Spread the butter on the other side.
- Flip the bread after 60 seconds. Time it depending on how toasted you want your bread to be. (make sure not to over grill the bread)
- Flip again to grill the other side of the bread. Remove and let it rest.
- Alternatively, heat your broiler and set the bread underneath for 30-90 seconds.
- Cut the bread into bite sized pieces.
- Combine the melon, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and basil in a bowl.
- Add the toasted bread and mix all the ingredients. Let it rest, so that the juice from tomato and melon seeps into the bread.
FOR THE DRESSING:
- Whisk balsamic vinegar, olive oil, minced garlic, & Dijon mustard together.
- Add salt & black pepper to taste.
- Pour the bread and cantaloupe onto a platter. Drizzle the dressing over the salad.
- Add parmesan shavings over the salad and garnish with smaller leaves of basil.
- Finish with sea salt flakes, optional.
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- If following our modern technique, hold off adding croutons with all the ingredients in the beginning.
- Just before serving place croutons on the serving plate, put the ingredients over the bread including the dressing.
- Cut the melon into desired shape, and keep refrigerated until ready to assemble the salad.
- Some recipe call for use of oil, I however, prefer butter because nothing compares to a good dollop of butter on a bread!
- Other things you can use are red or yellow peppers, peaches, Kalamata olives, burrata.
- Scoop & mix the salad few times to let the melon juices seep into the bread, only applicable if following the traditional recipe. If you’re making it with the modern technique… follow notes in the recipe.
- If using oven instead of a pan, just make sure your bread dries sufficiently in the oven so it doesn’t turn to mush, only applicable if following the traditional recipe.
- To turn this salad into a full meal add cannellini beans, white kidney beans or garbanzo beans cooked over a pan and added to the salad at the end.
- Turn this salad into a gluten free by baking a gluten free bread at home. All you need is the Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Homemade Wonderful Bread Mix. This reasonably priced mix is also a great source of food for people with gluten allergies!!
- Change the type of cheese used for this recipe to make it a vegan-friendly salad. Our suggestions include Daiya’s Parmesan Flavour Shreds available at all grocery stores.
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