Panzanella: a recipe for stale bread

Got stale bread? I hate to waste food and when we buy bread, usually as a vehicle for prosciutto, we rarely finish it. We’re just not big bread eaters and tend to use up our carbs in pizza and pasta instead. Fortunately, there are a plethora of recipes in Italian cooking to use up all the odds and ends and leftover bits of food in your kitchen, including stale bread. Panzanella from Tuscany is one such recipe. It’s basically a stale bread salad with flavors reminiscent of gazpacho.

Panzanella shows up all over the place as an appetizer on Italian menus in the summer and in endless variations. Fish is a popular addition. Our favorite pizzeria makes it with salted cod and our favorite restaurant on Lake Bolsena makes it with marinated perch. The original recipe from way back when also apparently only used onions and no tomatoes, and I’ve seen recipes with capers, anchovies, garlic, parsley, and red pepper as well. There is lots of room for experimentation here.

Many cooks claim that it tastes better when made with fresh bread, but I prefer to make it with stale as its superpower is really to keep old bread from going to waste. Its other superpower is to enable you to make a meal on a hot summer day without turning on the stove. The photo above is unfinished, just before I put it in the refrigerator for an hour, but when it had already started looking like a flavor party.


  • Approximtely 1/2 loaf of stale Tuscan bread or country loaf or toasted bread
  • Water
  • White wine vinegar
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced. The direction you slice an onion will change the intensity of its flavor and lengthwise is typically less strong than crosswise.
  • 1 large tomato
  • 1 cucumber
  • Some basil leaves
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

How to make it

  1. Slice the bread and lay flat on a tray or on a plate with edges. Pour water over the bread until it is saturated. Let sit about 45 minutes. I made this with thick crusty bread, not sliced sandwich bread. You could probably use sandwich bread, but I think it would turn to soup if left for 45 minutes and you would need to experiment a little.
  2. Soak the sliced onion in equal parts water and vinegar for at least 20 minutes to remove some more of the bite.
  3. Dice the tomato and slice the cucumber if using them and place both together in a large bowl.
  4. Squeeze excess water from the bread and crumble over the tomatoes.
  5. Add the sliced onions and a little bit of the water and vinegar that they were soaking in.
  6. Tear the basil with your hands and toss it into the bowl as well.
  7. Mix all together and place it in the refrigerator for an hour.
  8. Remove from the refrigerator and drizzle with ample olive oil (about 4 tablespoons) and stir in some vinegar (about 2 tablespoons). Season with salt and pepper.

Eat well. Stay safe.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *