Last September, my husband and I spent three weeks in Italy with his parents and our two children. It was a wonderful trip spent throughout the country, starting with a stay in Rome. While we were in Rome I was fortunate enough to take a cooking class with chef Claudio Guggeri. Chef Guggeri received his degree from Scuola Tu Chef culinary school. He has worked with many restaurants within the heart of Trastevere, there in Rome. He’s also taught students at Rome’s University of California (UCEAP). During my lesson, he taught me how to make a traditional Italian meal with two appetizers of ricotta with white beans, olive oil and oregano and Saltimbocca, a main course of Pasta Amatriciana, a Panzanella salad, and Tiramisu for dessert. The entire meal was incredible and I’ve made a few of the dishes a few times since then.
As for that meal, the other night I was supposed to go to a gathering with some friends and I was supposed to bring a salad to our get together. Well of course, the first thing that came to my mind was the Panzanella that Chef Guggeri taught me how to make. Panzanella is a simple bread and tomato salad that has great flavor and is fairly quick to make. This salad is traditionally made in the summer months and originated in Tuscany. Since the first time we’ve had this salad, it’s become one of my husband’s favorites. I know we will be making this one time and time again.
Panzanella Salad (Tuscan-Style Tomato and Bread Salad)
2 1/2 lbs Roma tomatoes, roughly chopped (though you can use a mixture of different kinds)
1/2 cup packed Basil leaves, roughly chopped
One small red onion, thinly sliced (I used a large onion and only used about a quarter of it. This all depends on how much onion you like in your salad)
2 or 3 celery sticks, thinly sliced
1 small loaf of stale country bread (like French loaf or ciabatta) torn or cut into small pieces (if you don’t have stale bread, either toast the loaf or dry it out in the oven before using)
Olive oil for drizzling over the salad
Salt and pepper to taste
Balsamic vinegar for drizzling over the salad
Toss everything to coat and season with salt and pepper. Let the salad rest for 30 minutes before serving, occasionally tossing the ingredients together to make sure the bread is soaking up some of the juices. Enjoy as a side salad or a light summer dinner!
Note: Make sure to use all of the juice from the tomatoes. That juice mixes with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar to make a sort of vinaigrette.