There are many variations of this traditional dish, which is fundamentally a way of dressing up stale bread, but I like my father's recipe the best. During my childhood, every August we would spend three weeks in Poggio Catino, my father's native village, located in the historic region of Sabina, north of Rome. Our morning walks in the woods of the Monti Sabini usually ended with a breakfast of panzanella, for which we would carry with us the ingredients. First of all, we brought pane casareccio (homemade-style bread) that was at least one day old. Then we brought tasty tomatoes, ripe, but not mushy, a few leaves of home-grown fresh basil, and a small quantity of olive oil and of vinegar. My father brought salt as well, but only for himself. Even as a child I opposed using salt in general and on tomatoes in particular, because I thought that salt altered their natural flavor.
Panzanella is made by moistening the bread (we used water from one of the springs that grace the ancient woods), without soaking it, then dressing it with the other ingredients. The most important step is rubbing tomato halves over the bread, while squeezing them, so that their juice is absorbed by the substrate, already loosened up by the water. The squeezed tomatoes are then cut into pieces and distributed over the bread surface, as you can see in the photo.
A thread of olive oil and a touch of vinegar, plus the basil complete the oeuvre. Part of the fun for me was that we made and ate panzanella in a rather rugged fashion, since we had no plates or cutlery. In any case, panzanella should be eaten using one's hands as tools. As I mentioned in my most recent post, panzanella was featured also in family picnics, together with cocomero: my brother and I used the latter's rind as natural towelette to wash our hands and face after eating oily panzanella.
Side note: Some people scream at the thought of putting vinegar over tomatoes. You can certainly enjoy panzanella without vinegar. I have always belonged to the vinegar-crazy party and so I add a splash of it to my piece of panzanella.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the panzanella audio file [mp3].
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