Beyond bruschetta: the regional bread and tomato salads of Italy

by Luciana Squadrilli 8 June 2017

Luciana Squadrilli takes some fresh, ripe tomatoes and some leftover bread and creates ten incredible Italian classics that are perfect for summertime feasting – and you don’t even need to cook them.

Luciana Squadrilli is a freelance journalist and author specialising in food and travel writing.

Born in Naples but currently living in Rome, Luciana Squadrilli is a freelance journalist and author specialising in food and travel writing. She is a regular contributor to Identità Golose, Via dei Gourmet, Gazza Golosa, I Cento Roma, Flos Olei, Olive Oil Times and Hi-Europe Magazine, and when she's not travelling or discovering culinary delights, she indulges her personal passions: pizza, extra virgin olive oil and the desert.

Bread, tomatoes, olive oil, basil. Or even better – seriously good bread, better if stale; perfectly ripe, sun-drenched tomatoes; lovely scented extra virgin olive oil and freshly picked basil. These are the essential ingredients for the traditional Italian summer meal, when the rising temperatures mean we swap slow-cooked dishes for fresher alternatives wherever possible.

Born as clever ways to use up leftover bread – a cheap yet precious food, not to be wasted – and whatever is left in the fridge, these recipes have become iconic Italian staples in the country’s various provinces. They may have different names and flavours, but at the heart of them there is the taste of Italian summertime.

Pane e pomodoro (Southern Italy)

Let’s start with the basics: this simple food represents the pinnacle of Italian summer and features heavily in many people’s childhood memories, when grannies and mothers only had to squash some ripe tomatoes on a slice of bread and add some salt and extra virgin olive oil to give their kids the tastiest snack ever. The grown-up version is the well-known bruschetta, where toasted bread is generously rubbed with fresh garlic.

Panzanella (Lazio and Tuscany)

Also called panmollo (soaked bread), this recipe is a staple of central Italian cuisine and many local versions exist. The main ingredients are tomatoes and stale bread (if you can get it, use pane sciocco, a salt-free Tuscan loaf) cut into chunks and then soaked in water and vinegar. Some pieces disintegrate into the liquid, while others stay whole. Then some extra virgin olive oil, salt, red onions and freshly chopped basil are added to finish off the dish.

Ciaudella (Abruzzo)

Similar to panzanella, this tasty Abbruzan summer dish is made of stale wood-fired bread plunged in water and sprinkled with vinegar, and almost whatever you can find in the fridge: from cucumbers (the local variety totarello is best) to peppers and spring onions. What really makes a difference is the local pear-shaped tomatoes, ripe yet solid and full of taste, so be sure to try it if you’re ever in Abruzzo.

Fresella napoletana (Naples, Campania) or frisa salentina (Salento, Puglia)


To prepare this popular Southern dish that used to feed the workforce on a daily basis you need the local freselle (in Neapolitan) or frise (in Puglian): oblong or round crisp durum wheat bagels cut in half and then baked again for extra crunchiness. They are soaked either quickly or for a long time (according to how crunchy you like it) in water and then seasoned. Again, the basics are extra virgin olive oil, tomatoes – possibly San Marzano or the small and tasty datterini growing near the Vesuvius volcano – salt, spring onion and garlic. Than you can add at will: tuna, anchovies, capers, basil, oregano, rocket, olives or cucumber (in Puglia they use the carosello cucumbers which are easier to digest). In Naples this is called caponata, not to be confused with the rich Sicilian recipe made of fried vegetables.

Acquasala (Puglia)

A fantastic one-course summer meal, acquasala is a very simple and tasty recipe, a sort of mix between panzanella and frisa: in a bowl, they combine small chunks of stale bread – gently soaked, then squeezed out and crumbled – with chopped tomatoes, local cucumber, red onion, spring onion or the local sponzale (a sort of red leek), extra virgin olive oil and oregano or basil. Some also add roasted vegetables such as peppers, courgettes or aubergines. Letting it rest for a couple hours, gently stirring now and then, means the bread soaks up all the delicious flavours.

Calabrian bread salad (Calabria)

In Calabria everything comes with chilli peppers, which feature in this fresh and simple recipe. Stale bread soaked in water is paired with extra virgin olive oil, chillies, a sprinkle of vinegar, the tasty local red onion, fresh basil, ripe tomatoes and some greener ones. Some also add the typical ammaccate (‘beaten’) green olives, which are seasoned with fennel seeds and more chilli.

Pane Cunzato and Salamureci (Sicily)

In Sicily, they go big: a whole (small) loaf is cut in half and seasoned with salt, pepper and a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil, then filled with other local ingredients: tomatoes, oregano, anchovies or tuna in oil, olives, salted ricotta or fresh cheese. A very tasty Mediterranean sandwich. In Trapani, a city in western Sicily, they throw chunks of stale bread into salamureci, a chilled soup made of chopped tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, crushed garlic and basil, water and ground almonds.

Cooked options

In addition to this, there are also are a number of similar recipes using bread and tomatoes that need to be cooked on the hob. From the iconic pappa al pomodoro in Tuscany – a sort of soup made of stale bread and peeled and cooked tomatoes – to the cialledda made in Southern Italy, between Matera and Bari; very similar to pappa al pomodoro, it also involves a generous use of onion and a final sprinkle of intensely scented oregano. In Sardinia, they make the tasty pani cun tamatigia – a sort of durum wheatfocaccia filled with tomatoes and other ingredients and then baked – and su mazzamurru, which sees broth-soaked bread covered in tomato sauce and Pecorino cheese and baked.