Bread Salad: a low GI, waste not recipe with Italian touch
Time: prep. 10 mins
rest. 30 mins
Difficulty: very easy
Yields: 2 portions
Panzanella or Italian bread salad is a no-waste and low glycemic index recipe, beside being cheap, delicious, nutritious and refreshing, ideal on hot summer days.
However, perhaps the most interesting feature is its universality.
Bread has been part of the human diet since time immemorial (even Otzi, the 5300-year-old prehistoric man, had eaten some sort of bread at his last meal) and it is probably for this reason that the need for an alternative use when it is no longer fresh has been evident since its ancestors; hence the reason for finding recipes such as bread salad, widespread in so many cultures and cuisines around the world.
In Italy alone, there are a multitude of varieties, with different names, but similar ingredients and procedures: the renowned panzanella from Tuscany, Rome or Sicily; even the acquasale (literally means water and salt) from Campania, Basilicata and Puglia, are made with the same key ingredients, i.e. stale bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, extra virgin olive oil and onions; all strictly local, cheap and nutritious.
On the subject of nutrients: as we have also seen from the gazpacho recipe, the specific combination of the chosen ingredients, “doubtless thanks to folk wisdom”, not only benefits the palate, but also demonstrates the efficacy of a certain food synergy: the antioxidant potential of the vegetables in the gazpacho and bread salad is greater than the individual ingredients consumed separately can provide.
To recap, the requirements for a bread salad are hot days, summer vegetables and stale bread. In case you don’t have any stale bread, don’t worry: either friselle (twice-baked South Italy bread), rusk bread or any fresh toasted bread will do. Nevertheless, as a food engineer I admit that I appreciate the characteristics of the stale bread more; this time not just for the planet or to eliminate waste, but more for health, and I’ll tell you why.
For those who want to delve deeper into the subject, I highly recommend reading this article.
Why it is better to eat stale bread
The importance of the gut microbiota is no longer a secret, nor is the passion these microorganisms have for resistant or retrograde starch.
The starch in flour, when uncooked, is mostly resistant starch, which is physically indigestible for us; to digest it, we have to cook it after hydrating it.
Despite the fact that the name (resistant starch) implies indigestibility for the human body, due to the absence of enzymes, it actually turns out to be an important factor for human health: it has fewer calories, a lower glycemic index, thus requiring less insulin and increasing the feeling of satiety.
Now, since we cannot eat raw flour, for obvious reasons, it happens that during the cooking process the starch is transformed into a fully digestible (or nearly so) form, losing the part that is so useful. However, when the bread or pasta cools down and/or becomes stale after 1-2 days, some of the now digestible starch retrogrades and becomes resistant (to digestion) again in a reverse process.
At this point, while the organoleptic characteristics remain virtually unchanged (in the case of pasta, the taste is often improved for many people), the gut flora is able to digest the resistant starch and, most importantly for us, the microorganisms are able to convert the resistant starch into highly precious short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). There is convincing evidence that SCFAs produced by the gut microbiota are used in gastrointestinal physiology, immune function, host metabolism (in the case of us humans) and even in the development and homeostasis of the central nervous system[1,2,3,4].
This is why we should prefer old bread, even if it is no longer crunchy; a recipe such as this bread salad is capable of improving every aspect and is even surprising on a gastronomic level
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Ingredients for Italian bread salad
3-4 slices of stale wholemeal bread (preferably sourdough)
1 large ripe tomato, diced
juice of 1 ripe tomato (or 50ml tomato puree)
about ten black olives, halved
½ avocado and/or ½ cucumber, diced
½ onion sliced into crescents (best if red – for color)
1 clove of garlic, grated
1 sprig of rosemary or a pinch of oregano (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley (basil will do too)
2 tablespoons cold water (more if the bread is very hard)
2 tablespoons evo oil
2 tablespoons wine vinegar (you can halve this amount, if you don’t like the taste)
Salt, pepper, chilli to taste (optional)
This is actually a quick and easy recipe for those in a hurry.
First of all, cut the stale bread into cubes; then, for the success of the bread salad, toast these cubes in a pan with 1 tablespoon of oil, if you like, with a little oregano or rosemary; the more daring can also add some hot chilli peppers. About 5 to 8 minutes is enough to get rid of the unpleasant stale bread smell and give it a pleasant crunch.
You can also use stale bread without toasting it: the important thing is that it is mould-free. And when it is too hardened, it can be difficult to cut, so just immerse it in a bowl full of water for a few minutes then, divide it into small pieces with your hands. Similarly, also freezed and thawed bread would be fine for a bread salad; perhaps a quick reheat would be ideal to improve its organoleptic properties.
Then cut one very ripe tomato into small pieces and grind it with a mini-pimmer or a vegetable grinder; add the other liquids such as the evo oil, vinegar (and water if the bread is very tough) and mix everything together with the stale bread: usually half an hour’s rest is enough to obtain pleasantly crunchy bites without risking your teeth.
Meanwhile, in a large salad bowl, place the other tomato, diced, with the peeled cucumber (you can also add a half avocado) and the onion, sliced into half-moons.
Add the basil leaves (or parsley) and the garlic; the latter is best chopped, but you can also use it in 2-3 pieces, to be removed before serving the bread salad.
Stone the olives after desalinating (if necessary) and halve them, then mix with the other ingredients.
Season with salt, black pepper and a few slices of hot chili pepper.
For more taste you can also add some pieces of mature Italian cheese (sometimes I use a plant based cheese and get a very good result).
You are now ready to enjoy an incredibly simple but appetising dish.
Enjoy your Italian bread salad and good revolution to all!
1) Silva YP, Bernardi A and Frozza RL (2020) The Role of Short-Chain Fatty Acids From Gut Microbiota in Gut-Brain Communication. Front. Endocrinol. 11:25. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2020.00025
2) Barrea L, Muscogiuri G, Annunziata G, Laudisio D, Pugliese G, Salzano C, et al. From gut microbiota dysfunction to obesity: could short-chain fatty acids stop this dangerous course? Hormones. (2019) 18:245–50
3) Keenan MJ, Zhou J, Hegsted M, Pelkman C, Durham HA, Coulon DB, et al. Role of resistant starch in improving gut health, adiposity, and insulin resistance. Adv Nutr. (2015) 6:198–205
4) Sanna S, van Zuydam NR, Mahajan A, Kurilshikov A, Vich Vila A, Võsa U, et al. Causal relationships among the gut microbiome, short-chain fatty acids and metabolic diseases. Nat Genet. (2019) 51:600–5