One of the most representative summer dishes of the Tuscan and Florentine cooking tradition, present also in other regions of Central Italy, is definitely panzanella.
It is said that a first version of the recipe, called “washed bread”, was mentioned by Boccaccio in the XIV century. Panzanella is a cheap or, to use a very common word today, sustainable preparation as it is made with stale bread.
Panzanella, pansanella or panmolle or panmòllo or pane 'nzuppo is a salad dish typical of Central Italy. In 1863, in Pietro Fanfani’s dictionary of Tuscan traditions, panzanella appeared in two versions. The first made with a slice of bread, toasted, rubbed with garlic and soaked in oil.
The second, a much poorer version, made with bread soaked in water and dressed with oil and, vinegar, to which onion, basil and cucumber was added. According to Fanfani, it was a tradition amongst peasants and farmhouse tenants as a way to recycle stale bread.
Both versions didn’t include tomatoes which were surely added towards the end of the XVIII and beginning of the XIX centuries.
Panzanella didn’t appear in Pellegrino Artusi’s well known recipe book (1891) but it was included in Gustavo Pierotti’s recipe book on Tuscan cuisine, published in 1927, where “le gallette” were soaked in cold water and garnished with tomatoes, chopped anchovies, onions and basil, oil, vinegar but no cucumber.
In the 1931 edition of the Touring Club Gastronomic Guide of Italy, panzanella was included as one of Tuscan’s typical dishes, with a recipe identical to the one illustrated by Pierotti in his Dictionary. The guide’s authors mention the presence of the dish even in Campania in a slightly different version, called “Panzanella alla marinara” made with gallette soaked in water, anchovies, onions, tomatoes, green peppers, olives, and dressed with oil and vinegar.
Why this humble salad dish is so successful is clear from the first mouthful. Panzanella is the ideal meal in hot summer days: fresh, light and tasty, easy to prepare and extremely versatile. Revisited by famous chefs, enriched with special and unusual ingredients, panzanella is a summer flavour explosion in your mouth
*based on research done by Professor Anna Maria Evangelista