Deconstructed panzanella (tomato & bread salad)

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This post did not start out as a deconstructed panzanella. I happily whipped up this recipe on the weekend and served it, 1950s housewife style, to my husband, who declared it delicious, but not traditional. Why? I moaned. Because, as he went on to tell me, a traditional panzanella is a mushy mix of bread that has soaked for so long in the tomato juices, it’s become soggy and shapeless… and sometimes you add tuna. So maybe my version isn’t traditional, but it’s a whole lot more appetizing!

Panzanella is a really popular summer dish in Southern Tuscany. It was originally prepared by the farmers who needed a quick, but nutritional dish to take with them in the field. They would make it early in the morning with day-old bread and whatever vegetables they had on hand.

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No matter how poor you were, you always had olive oil, often from your own hand-picked and locally ground olives, and its the quality of the olive oil you use that elevates this simple salad into something unforgettable. Make sure it’s Tuscan extra virgin olive oil!

Like most Italian dishes, the humble panzanella has been made all the more luxurious with the addition of mozzarella. The locals only use buffalo mozzarella, which is a bit more expensive, but has a creamy and slightly sour tang that is irresistible.

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You can serve panzanella as a light summer lunch dish or a simple appetizer when you’re looking for something fresh and quick. And feel free to play with the recipe a bit. I’ve made this with tuna, diced red onions and chickpeas for something a little more substantial and it was delicious!

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