Ingredients for 4 servings
- stale rustic Tuscan bread 2.2 lbs (1 kg)
- anchovies, finely chopped 1 oz (30 g)
- tomatoes, diced 7 oz (200 g) about 2
- seedless cucumber, diced 41/5 oz (120 g) about 1 small
- onions, diced 51/3 oz (150 g) about 2 small
- bell peppers, diced 1/2 lb (250 g) about 2 medium
- garlic clove, minced 1
- capers, well rinsed and finely chopped 1 tbsp (8 g)
- fresh basil leaves 20
- red wine vinegar 1 tbsp (15 ml)
- extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Tuscan 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp (80 ml)
- salt 1/2 tsp (3 g)
- black pepper to taste
Cut the bread into 3/4 inch (2 cm) cubes, leaving the crust on. Finely chop the garlic with the anchovies and capers and put them all in a large bowl. Add the salt, freshly ground pepper, vinegar and oil and mix well. Dice the vegetables and add them along with the bread to the garlic/anchovie mixture. Mix again, making sure everything is coated with the dressing, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add few leaves of basil to garnish. Panzanella is even tastier if you make it the day before and refrigerate it overnight to let all the flavors meld.
It is no coincidence that farming culture was defined as a “bread civilization.” This food can probably be considered the first complex gastronomic product in human history, and it is a universal symbol of the incalculable distance between Homo sapiens and other creatures, which are limited to naturally occurring nourishment they cannot modify. Homer defined humans as “bread eaters,” as though this seemingly simple foodstuff encompassed all that is meant by “civilization.” In the past, therefore, bread was looked upon with an almost sacred respect, also due to the fact that in a subsistence economy, like that of the ancient Mediterranean region, nothing could be wasted. Children were actually forbidden to play with it and break it up into crumbs at the table. It was considered very bad luck to place it on the table upside down. Since Catholics equated bread to the Christ figure, a cross was often cut into the top of bread loaves, both for religious purposes and to facilitate rising. Anyone who threw away bread was actually condemned to a terrible punishment. These few examples illustrate the historic and anthropological origins of the many Italian dishes that reuse and reinterpret stale bread, in a sort of gastronomic rebirth that is still highly appreciated today.