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Aug 7, 2020

Panzanella Salad with Red Onions, Fresh Basil, and Olives

This panzanella salad with red onions, fresh basil, and olives is one of the tastiest ways to show off the fresh flavors of juicy, ripe tomatoes.

Panzanella Salad with Red Onions, Fresh Basil, and Olives

This panzanella salad is perfect for summer barbecues, picnics, and dinner parties. It can be both rustic and elegant. It is also the perfect light meal.

It's my go-to salad for when I can get my hands on ripe, juicy, and fresh tomatoes, especially from farmers' markets.

Panzanella Salad with Red Onions, and Fresh Basil

Original panzanella salad is a Tuscan-style salad of tomatoes and bread. Traditionally, it is made with day old bread that is soaked in water, wrung out, crumbled over tomatoes, and dressed in olive oil and red wine vinegar.

It's a great way to use up stale bread (or you could make Pappa al Pomodoro, a Tuscan tomato soup using stale bread). 

I skipped the water soaked stale bread and, instead, made some croutons with a fresh chewy baguette. I wanted some bread that could stand up to, but still absorb the juices from the tomatoes as well as the dressing.

Definitely use a hearty and crusty bread to make these croutons. I had lots of leftover croutons leftover for salads and soups.

Panzanella Salad with Red Onions, and Fresh Basil in a bowl

How to make the croutons:

To make the croutons, cut a hearty bread or a baguette into 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch cubes and add them to a sheet pan and toss them with olive oil.

If you are using Tuscan bread, which is baked without salt, you can sprinkle the cubes with a little bit of salt if you like. You can also sprinkle them with a little bit of Italian herbs or pizza seasoning.

Homemade croutons

Next, bake the cut bread pieces in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 15 minutes, tossing the croutons halfway through.

I like to make lots of extra croutons to keep on hand. They are so crunchy and delicious.

If you're really ambitious, you can rub each one with the cut side of a piece of garlic to add a garlicky flavor. I've done this with larger croutons, but it's a little too ambitious for me with smaller ones.

Here are the finished bread pieces.

Homemade croutons with olive oil

Even though you are creating hard crunchy croutons, you will eventually end up with softened bread after you dress the salad and let it rest. The difference is that the bread is not soggy and so much more flavorful.

What types of tomatoes should you use for this panzanella salad?

If you have access to fresh home grown or farm fresh tomatoes, definitely use those. Heirloom tomatoes, if available, are wonderful, especially because of the variety of colors.

If you are buying tomatoes at the grocery store, I recommend either Campari tomatoes or organic multicolored cherry tomatoes, which is what I used. Just be sure to cut the tomatoes so you can release all of the juices for the dressing.

Panzanella Salad with Red Onions, Fresh Basil, and Olives with oregano

The key to making the dressing in this salad is by salting the tomatoes and letting them sit for about 20 minutes to drain out some of their juices. I was concerned that, because I used cherry tomatoes, that I wouldn't have enough juices, but I didn't have to worry.

You place the tomatoes in a colander or strainer over a bowl, sprinkle them with kosher salt, and let them sit. The tomatoes release lots of juice into the bowl, which you then whisk with olive oil and sherry vinegar.

You can substitute red or white wine vinegar, but I have been totally in love with sherry vinegar, (Amazon affiliate link) ever since I made these red pepper coques. I always keep a bottle in my pantry. It takes any recipe calling for vinegar to another level.

Panzanella Salad with Red Onions, Fresh Basil, and Olives in bowls

Along with the tomatoes, croutons, and sherry vinegar, this salad also includes the following: 

  • Thinly sliced red onions. These onions really mellow after marinating in the tomatoes, bread, and dressing. All of the sharpness is gone. 
  • Dijon mustard. I forgot to mention that I added a little Dijon in the dressing! 
  • Basil leaves. I just happened to have some growing in my garden. They add so much flavor to this salad. 
  • Pitted green olives. I added these for their salty flavor. You can also substitute capers. 
  • Dried oregano and minced garlic, for the dressing. 

Be sure to let the salad rest for 30 minutes at room temperature before serving so that the bread can absorb all of the flavors. So good. 

This salad is delicious, and even makes terrific leftovers the next day. As long as you have fresh tomatoes and the best ingredients, you'll love this salad. 

Welcome to Farmer's Market Week! Be sure to check out everyone's recipes from ingredients you can find at a farmer's market.

Friday’s Farmers Market Week Recipes

Panzanella Salad with Red Onions, Fresh Basil, and Olives in serving bowls

I adore Panzanella so much. Toasty croutons, chunks of juicy tomatoes, tangy dressing with sherry vinegar and Dijon mustard's so good! You need to try this.

Panzanella Salad with Red Onions, Fresh Basil, and Olives

Panzanella Salad with Red Onions, Fresh Basil, and Olives
Yield: 4 servings
Author: Karen Kerr
This panzanella salad with red onions, fresh basil, and olives is one of the tastiest ways to show off the fresh flavors of juicy, ripe tomatoes.


  • 1 1/4 pounds mixed fresh tomatoes cut into 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch pieces. 
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 cups bread cubes
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves, chopped
  • 1/6 cup pitted green olives, quartered, about 9 olives
  • Salt to taste


  1. Place the tomatoes in a colander or strainer over a bowl and toss with  a teaspoon of kosher salt. Let sit for 15 to 30 minutes to collect the tomato juices. 
  2. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. 
  3. Toss the bread cubes with 1 tablespoon of olive oil on a sheet pan and place them in the oven to bake for 15 minutes. Stir the bread cubes halfway through. 
  4. Cool on a wire rack.
  5. Add the red onion, garlic, oregano, mustard, and vinegar to the drained juice from the tomatoes. 
  6. Whisking or stirring constantly, drizzle the rest of the olive oil into the dressing ingredients. Season with salt and pepper. Let sit for about 10 minutes. 
  7. Toss all of the ingredients (tomatoes, croutons, basil, olives, and onion mixture) together in a large bowl and let rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. 
  8. Serve. 
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Panzanella, salad, tomatoes
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Adapted from Serious Eats

Would you like to comment?

  1. Such a wonderful and delicious way to eat a rainbow. Not to mention using up some day old bread.

  2. I have not made panzanella in forever! We love red onions so I'm totally trying this version.

  3. Looks like the perfect summer time lunch to me!

  4. This is a perfect summer salad! It's so bright and delicious and I really like the addition of olives.

  5. I love how bright this salad's calling my name!

  6. What an absolutely stunning salad!

  7. Absolutely beautiful salad! I am looking forward to eating one of these very soon!

  8. Oh my goodness - this is stuffed with such gorgeous flavors and textures!!

  9. I am a sucker for a panzanella salad. I love the way the bread soaks up the flavors of the tomatoes and dressing. So so good.


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