Don’t miss the Panzazella Cook-Off Challenge this weekend at the Fattoria dei Barbi!
The Blessed Panzanella
A Gastronomic Competition
mostly but not wholly for the fun of it
Dedicated to this classic rustic Tuscan dish and its inventor, the Blessed Giovanni Colombini.
Sunday, July 30, 2017
11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Last week, when I did the translation and write-up for the Fattoria dei Barbi Panzanella Challenge, which will be held this Sunday in Montalcino on the estate, I was reminded of the first time I visited the village back in 1989 while I was still an undergrad student in Italy.
An American friend had lent me his apartment and suggested that I take my mom there when she visited (it was a really nice apartment, right on the main square in Bagno Vignoni, where a Renaissance-era hot springs pool occupies nearly the entire piazza).
It was on that trip that my mom and I discovered panzanella for the first time: The now famous Tuscan bread salad, made only during summer using stale Tuscan (salt-less) bread, like the loaves in the image above, and summer fruits, vegetables, and herbs like tomatoes, cucumbers, and basil.
The whole key to the dish is the salt-less stale bread: When tossed with extra-virgin olive oil and wine vinegar, it obtains a distinctive texture and flavor that really sets this dish apart from classic summer foods. It is at once gentle (thanks to the bread) and bold (thanks to the bright summer flavors), a perfectly balance of savory, sweet, and herbaceous.
It’s also really easy to make: Before no time, my mom (and I) were making this dish regularly back in the States, regaling our friends and family with tales from our culinary adventures in Tuscany.
Little did we know that we weren’t the only Americans to discover this wonderful dish. In just a few short years, panzanella would become a staple of American cookery, finding its way in the landmark Joy of Cooking cookbook and on the menus of countless Italian restaurants and delis in the U.S.
It’s the power of this most humble but now world-renowned dish.
Image via Fugzu’s Flickr (Creative Commons).