Our Tuscan Panzanella Salad With Mozzarella is not an ordinary take-it-or-leave-it salad. It is vibrant with flavours of fresh vegetables, salty olives and tangy capers! It also makes use of some leftover bread that is going stale, which is perfect to soak up that olive oil-based Panzanella salad dressing! If that’s not enough to tempt you, we also added some pearl mozzarella to make this Italian classic one of the most enjoyable salads to have for summer lunch!
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Classic Panzanella Salad: Italian Food at Its Best
There are no two ways about it: Italians know how to eat. And whilst I admit (with regret) that I haven’t had much authentic Italian food (which I am hoping to rectify by travelling in Italy at some point), I am almost certain to LOVE anything that is served to me at a good Italian restaurant here in the UK.
Tuscan Panzanella salad is no exception. Although I never had it made for me by an Italian chef, nor did I ever have it made for me by any chef, I absolutely love it when we make it at home.
Years ago, I saw the salad on the menu at one of the gastropubs in Cheshire and I will be honest, it did not interest me one bit. After all, it’s a salad, I thought. It’s some fresh vegetables and some stale bread. But boy was I wrong?! It’s all about the marriage of fresh cherry tomatoes and cucumber with tangy capers and salty olives! The croutons (did I call them stale bread a minute ago?) add texture and soak up all that dressing… What is more, soft and creamy mozzarella adds another texture to the salad, making it all the more satisfying.
What is Panzanella Salad?
Panzanella, also known as Panmolle, is a Tuscan creation. The name itself stems from two Italian words: pane (bread) and zanella (a deep plate or a bowl). Traditionally, this Italian salad was made with red onion as the main vegetable (not cherry tomatoes, which are used in modern Panzanella recipes) and stale bread, soaked in water, then squeezed dry.
I’ll be honest, I am happy that modern-day cooking has advanced this simple salad with the addition of all things lovely – variations of Panzanella may have cucumber, olives, capers, mint and basil, and even anchovies and boiled egg.
Our version has a lot of the above. Mainly because we enjoy Panzanella as a main dish. It is light but perfectly satisfying for a quick weekend lunch. To get as close as possible to a Tuscan experience, make Tuscan Panzanella with Mozzarella on a warm summer day and have your lunch al fresco.
We use these ingredients in our Tuscan Panzanella:
- bread: stale sourdough or any other bread will do.
- olive oil: extra virgin, ideally.
- dried thyme: can be substituted with other herbs, like rosemary, oregano or a mixture.
- red onion: a must-have ingredient in any modern or classic Panzanella salad.
- red wine vinegar: can be replaced with white wine or cider vinegar.
- caster sugar: or white granulated sugar.
- cherry tomatoes: or regular salad tomatoes chopped into smaller pieces.
- cucumber: English cucumber or any other cucumber that doesn’t have a thick or bitter skin will work.
- black olives: pitted.
- mozzarella pearls, mozzarella ball or burrata.
During one of our Veganuaries, we were desperately craving Tuscan Panzanella Salad, but we knew that without some creamy cheese, it would not be the same. So we skipped the mozzarella and dotted some vegan cream cheese over the salad instead, it was utterly delicious!
To start, get all of your ingredients ready. Thinly slice red onions and place them in a colander. We love Victorinox knives and have been using them for years. Slice the cucumber into thin half-circles and half the cherry tomatoes. Then thinly slice the black olives and roughly chop the basil. Drain the mozzarella pearls. If you’re using a ball of mozzarella, drain and tear it into bite-sized pieces. If you’re feeling extra fancy, use burrata – it is simply divine!
To make the croutons, preheat the oven to 180°C Fan. Tear the slices of bread into bite-size pieces and spread them on a baking tray in a single layer. We normally use some defrosted Crusty Sourdough Bread slices, but any bread will work. Drizzle with 2 tbsp of olive oil, season with a generous pinch of salt and 1/2 tsp of dried thyme. Place the tray in a preheated oven for approx. 10 minutes until crispy and starting to brown.
In the meantime, boil a kettle. Add the thinly sliced onion to a colander and pour over a full kettle of boiling water to soften and mellow the flavour of red onion.
Place the blanched red onions in a bowl. Add red wine vinegar, 1 tsp of sugar and a pinch of salt and set aside. The sugar will mellow the flavour further. This step is VERY IMPORTANT. If you were to add raw red onion to your Panzanella Salad, it would overpower the flavour of all the other lovely things that go in it.
To a large salad bowl, add the halved tomatoes, sliced olives, capers, basil and cucumber. Drain the sliced onions (reserving the liquid) and add to the salad too.
Panzanella Salad Dressing
To make the dressing, crush a small clove of garlic, and add the remaining thyme and 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil to the reserved onion soaking liquid. Mix.
Divide the salad between two bowls, add the crispy croutons, and mozzarella pearls (or tear the mozzarella ball into bite-size pieces) and generously drizzle with the dressing. Grind some black pepper on top!
Tips for The Best Tuscan Panzanella
- Don’t leave your bread in the oven for too long. You want it crispy on the outside but still soft in the middle. Hard crunchy croutons don’t soak up the dressing well and are generally less enjoyable (aka hurts your mouth) in this salad.
- Make sure your blanch the red onion. The raw onion will overpower all other flavours in this Tuscan Salad.
- Serve Panzanella salad immediately, whilst your croutons are still slightly warm and the basil hasn’t discoloured!
Other Light Summer Lunch Ideas
If you’re looking for some other lighter lunch ideas, why not make one of the following:
Tuscan Panzanella With Mozzarella
- 2 slices of bread
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 red onion thinly sliced
- 30 ml red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- 250 g cherry tomatoes halved
- 1/2 cucumber (approx. 170g) sliced thinly into half circles
- 10 pitted black olives sliced
- 30 g capers
- 10 g basil chopped roughly
- 1 garlic clove minced/ crushed
- 125 g mozzarella pearls, mozzarella ball or burrata
- Preheat the oven to 180°C Fan. Tear the slices of bread into bite-size pieces and spread them on a baking tray in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil, season with a generous pinch of salt and 1/2 tsp of dried thyme. Place the tray in a preheated oven for approx. 10 minutes until crispy and starting to brown.
- In the meantime, boil a kettle. Add the thinly sliced onion to a colander and pour over a full kettle of boiling water to mellow the flavour of red onion.
- Place the blanched red onions in a bowl. Add red wine vinegar, 1 tsp of sugar and a pinch of salt and set aside.
- To a large salad bowl, add the halved tomatoes, sliced olives, capers, basil and cucumber. Drain the sliced onions (reserving the liquid) and add to the salad too.
- To make the dressing, add crushed garlic, the remaining thyme and 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil to the reserved onion soaking liquid. Mix.
- Divide the salad between two bowls, add the crispy croutons, mozzarella pearls (or tear the mozzarella ball into bite-size pieces) and generously drizzle with the dressing. Grind some black pepper on top!