600 g of two-day old Tuscan bread
6 Ripe but firm tomatoes
1 Cucumber of your favorite kind
A handful of basil leaves
6 Spoonfuls of red wine vinegar
3 Four-finger pinches of salt
The secret to get a good Panzanella lies in knowing how to soak the bread having good olive oil extravirgin and excellent vinegar.
but if you follow my instructions you will all become master panzanella makers!
On the table in front of you, from left to right (if you are right-handed, otherwise do it the opposite) put: the old bread cut in slices one finger high; the basin full of cold water, and the empty salad bowl.
Soak the slices one at a time for 5 seconds, then use your hands to squeeze all the water out.
Then break the bread up into big chunks in the salad bowl.
The bread must be wet, but also soft and spongy; if you keep it in the water too long, you will end up with a pulp which will not blend well with the fresh vegetables.
Now you have done most of the job! Cut the tomatoes into thumb-sized pieces, slice the onion into thin rings, break the basil with your fingers, peel and cut the cucumber into thin round slices.
Now you just need to add the seasoning – oil, salt and vinegar.
Mix softly using your hands, so as not to spoil the texture.
Let it cool off in the fridge for at least half an hour before serving.
Farmers used to make this dish during the harvest season to refresh themselves, and it was often brought directly to the fields by their wives, not to waste time going back home for lunch.
A poor dish, often accompanied by wine diluted with water, was good to slake thirst without being heavy. The recipe is very old: 700 years ago, Giovanni Boccaccio, poet of our town, used to call it “Pan lavato”, “washed bread”. Tomatoes were added after the discovery of the new world. The name seems to be a combination of “pane”, bread and “alzanella”, an old word for large salad bowl.