Kid-friendly Tasty Tomato Panzanella Salad Recipe - Sticky Fingers Cooking
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Recipe: Tasty Tomato Panzanella Salad

Recipe: Tasty Tomato Panzanella Salad

Tasty Tomato Panzanella Salad

by Erin Fletter
Photo by Anna Shepulova/
prep time
25 minutes
cook time
5 minutes
4-6 servings

Fun Food Story

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Tasty Tomato Panzanella Salad

The Italian Tuscans created Panzanella (PAHN-tsah-nehl-lah), a salad using bread, onions, and juicy tomatoes. A bread salad? Seriously? Who wouldn't say yes to that? The core element of panzanella is stale bread. About 500 years ago, bread was only baked once a week in communal ovens, so people would have to make the most of their bread for the entire week. They soaked the stale bread in water and vinegar and then mixed it with whatever fresh vegetables and tomatoes were available in the garden. The rest is wonderful culinary history. We eat a lot of salads at Sticky Fingers Cooking, and classic panzanella is our absolute favorite. Most kids love it, and yes, kids can and will love salad! Salads are also a great choice to get kids involved in the kitchen. This easy panzanella salad is no exception. No actual cooking is involved, and there are tons of veggies to prep. Juicy summer tomatoes, sharp vinaigrette, tons of fresh basil, and little toasted cubes of crunchy bread, only slightly softened by all that luscious salty fresh tomato juice and rich olive oil—too good to refuse. Get your kids in the kitchen and have them help you make this super simple, delicious weeknight meal!

Happy & Healthy Cooking,

Chef Erin, Food-Geek-in-Chief

Fun-Da-Mentals Kitchen Skills

  • knife skills :

    Bear Claw (growl), Pinch, Plank, and Bridge (look out for trolls)

  • slice :

    to cut into thin pieces using a sawing motion with your knife.

  • tear :

    to pull or rip apart a food, like basil leaves, into pieces instead of cutting with a knife; cutting breaks cell walls more, so herbs can discolor faster.

  • toast :

    to brown and crisp food in a heated skillet or oven, or in a toaster.

  • toss :

    to lightly lift and drop food items together or coat food items with flour, or a sauce or dressing, as in a salad.

  • whisk :

    to beat or stir ingredients vigorously with a fork or whisk to mix, blend, or incorporate air.

Equipment Checklist

  • Large skillet
  • Cutting board
  • Kid-safe knife
  • Dry measuring cups
  • Colander
  • Medium bowl
  • Measuring spoons
  • Wooden spoon
  • Large bowl
  • Whisk


Tasty Tomato Panzanella Salad

  • Bread croutons:
  • 3 C torn crusty baguette bread, about 1/2 large baguette **(for GLUTEN ALLERGY sub gluten-free/nut-free white bread)**
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch ground black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Salad:
  • 2 C cherry tomatoes **(for NIGHTSHADE ALLERGY sub chopped beets)**
  • 2 T red wine vinegar
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar/agave/honey
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 sprigs fresh basil leaves
  • fresh mozzarella cheese, optional **(Omit for DAIRY ALLERGY or sub dairy-free/nut-free mozzarella shreds, like Daiya brand)**

Food Allergen Substitutions

Tasty Tomato Panzanella Salad

  • Gluten/Wheat: Substitute gluten-free/nut-free white bread for baguette.
  • Nightshade: Substitute chopped beets for cherry tomatoes. 
  • Dairy: Omit optional mozzarella cheese or substitute dairy-free/nut-free mozzarella shreds, like Daiya brand.


Tasty Tomato Panzanella Salad


"Benvenuto" or "Welcome" in Italian! We're making "panzanella" (PAHN-tsah-nehl-lah) or bread salad! We will tear basil leaves today instead of cutting them with a knife. Cutting breaks cell walls more, so herbs can discolor faster. If you want to try an experiment, rip some herbs and cut some herbs with a knife, wait a bit, then see, smell, and taste if there's a difference!

slice + toss + drain

Slice 2 cups of cherry tomatoes in halves or quarters and place them in a colander set over a bowl. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and toss to coat the tomatoes in the salt. This will get some of the juices out of the tomatoes and intensify the tomato flavor. Set the colander aside at room temperature to drain, tossing occasionally, while you prepare the bread.

tear + drizzle + add

Have kids tear about 1/2 large baguette to yield 3 cups of crusty baguette bread pieces and place the torn bread cubes in a large skillet on your stovetop. Drizzle bread cubes with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with 1 pinch of salt and 1 pinch of black pepper to taste. Lightly toss the bread cubes to coat.

add + toast + cool

Add 2 peeled garlic cloves to the skillet (you will take them out before serving the salad). Toast the bread in your skillet on medium heat for 2 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until croutons are golden brown and crunchy. Remove and discard the garlic cloves, take the toasted bread croutons from the skillet, and set them aside to cool.

mix + measure

Time to make the dressing! Mix and measure 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar into the bottom of a large bowl and let kids whisk.

stir + tear

Have kids add the tomatoes to the bowl with the dressing and stir to combine. Allow the mixture to sit for at least 10 minutes. Have kids tear 2 sprigs of basil leaves into little pieces directly into the bowl.

top + toss

Top the salad with the cooled and toasted bread. If using the optional mozzarella, have kids chop up the cheese and add to the salad. Toss and taste to adjust flavors if necessary. For an extra taste of basil, try drizzling our Best Basil Emulsion over your salad. "Buon appetito" or "Enjoy" in Italian!

Surprise Ingredient: Tomato!

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Photo by Zaitsava Olga/

Hi! I’m Tomato!

"I'm a beautiful, juicy red Tomato. Do you pronounce my name: "tuh-may-tow" or "tuh-mah-tow?" Either way you slice it (or say it), we tomatoes are wonderfully adaptable. You'll find us fresh or cooked on sandwiches, in salads, tacos, soups, stews, sauces, and much more." 

History & Etymology

  • The tomatoes we have now descended from the pea-size fruit of wild plants that grew in western South America. Mesoamericans were the first to domesticate the tomato plant sometime before 500 BCE. 
  • Hernán Cortés, a Spanish conquistador, may have brought tomatoes back to Europe in the 16th century after conquering the Aztec city, Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City). 
  • Tomatoes cultivated in North American colonies in the early 1700s may have been introduced from the Caribbean. Thomas Jefferson also brought tomato seeds back from France. Before tomatoes were used in cooking, the plants were used ornamentally due to some people's beliefs that they were poisonous. One reason for this error was that tomatoes come from the nightshade family, including the belladonna plant (or deadly nightshade), which has highly toxic leaves and berries. Another reason may be that the pewter plates they used back then adversely reacted to the acid in tomato juice. 
  • China is by far the largest producer of tomatoes in the world. In the United States, California and Florida produce the most tomatoes.
  • The American and British pronunciations of "tomato" were made famous by an Ira and George Gershwin song from 1937 called "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." Americans pronounce the word "tuh-may-tow," and the British say "tuh-mah-tow."
  • The word "tomato" comes from the Spanish, French, or Portuguese "tomate," from the Nahuatl "tomatl."


  • The tomato is a berry from the tomato plant (Solanum Lycopersicum), a perennial vine. It is part of the Solanaceae family, like the potato, pepper, eggplant, and petunia. Since it is a berry, it is a fruit, although mainly used as a vegetable. 
  • A tomato's color is usually red but can also be yellow, orange, green, or purple. Tomatoes can be spherical, oval, or pear-shaped. Their flesh is pulpy with cavities, called locules, that hold the seeds. 
  • There are more than 10,000 tomato varieties. Some are hybrids, and some are heirlooms. An heirloom tomato is a variety that has been grown for generations on a family farm rather than commercially. Unfortunately, in the past 40 years, many heirloom varieties have been lost, along with the smaller family farms that grew them. However, hundreds of heirloom tomato varieties are still available. 

How to Pick, Buy, & Eat

  • If you are growing your own tomatoes, pick them from the vine while still firm, with a slight give, and before their ripe color (usually red) deepens too much. While holding the fruit, twist it off the stem until it snaps off. The leaf on top of the tomato (the calyx) and part of the stem will come with it. You can also snip it off using garden scissors.
  • When you choose tomatoes at the store, pick fruit that has smooth, brightly colored skin with no cracks or bruises, is firm but gives with slight pressure, is heavy for its size, and has a pleasant, aromatic smell. Avoid tomatoes with pale or dark spots.  
  • Store tomatoes at room temperature, as their flavor will decrease in a refrigerator's cold temperature. Wait to wash them until you are ready to use them.
  • If you plan to make a tomato sauce or soup using fresh, raw tomatoes, you will want to peel them first. This can be difficult without some preparation: First, put a pot of water on the stove to boil and fill a large bowl with cold or icy water. Next, after washing the tomatoes, use your knife to cut a shallow 'X' through the skin at the top or bottom of each one. Then use a slotted spoon to place the tomatoes into the boiling water until the skin begins to loosen and peel back at the incision, about 30 to 60 seconds. Finally, immediately dunk them into the ice water. The skin should peel easily now. You can also remove the seeds by cutting the peeled tomatoes in half and scooping the seeds out with a spoon.  
  • Tomatoes are versatile vegetables for cooking. Ripe tomatoes can be prepared fresh, stuffed, baked, boiled, or stewed, and they are the base for many sauces. You can also pickle green, unripe tomatoes, add them to salsa or bread and fry them.


  • Tomatoes are a moderate source of vitamin C, and cooked tomatoes are high in lycopene, an antioxidant, which may help protect your body's cells from damage, strengthen your immune system, and prevent some diseases.


What is Panzanella?

Photo by marco mayer/
  • Panzanella (PAHN-tsah-nehl-lah) is a bread salad from the Tuscany region of Italy. It is made of stale or toasted bread, onions, and tomatoes. It may also include basil and cucumbers.
  • The name "panzanella" includes part of the Italian word for "bread" in it: "pane" (PAHN-ay), and it is thought to be a combination of "pane" and "zanella," which could be a small bowl or basket. 
  • The salad has a long history in central Italy, at least 500 years, using stale or dried-out bread that was soaked in water and then added to onions, cucumbers, basil, and tomato, with an olive oil and vinegar dressing.

Let's Learn About Italy!

Photo by Marina Andrejchenko/
  • Italy became a unified country in 1861, only 150 years ago. It is sometimes called "bel paese" or "beautiful country."  
  • Italians invented the piano and the thermometer! 
  • In ancient Roman mythology, two twin brothers named Romulus and Remus founded Rome, Italy's capital city. The myth says the twins were abandoned and then discovered by a she-wolf before being found and raised by a shepherd and his wife. Eventually (and after many exciting adventures), they found themselves at the location of Palatine Hill, where Romulus built "Roma." The Italian wolf became Italy's unofficial national animal. 
  • In the 1930s and 40s, Mussolini, Italy's prime minister, and dictator tried to eliminate all foreign words from the Italian language. How did he do that? He just changed them! For example, in soccer, "goal" became "meta." Disney character names changed, too: Donald Duck became "Paperino;" Mickey Mouse became "Topolino;" and Goofy became "Pippo." Although they're not banned anymore, these words and names have stuck. So now if you go to the Italian Disneyland, called Gardaland Park, you will see Topolino and Pippo! 
  • About 60 million people call Italy home, and it is 116,350 square miles, slightly larger than the US state of Arizona. If you compare that to the United Kingdom, 67 million people live there, and it is about 94,350 square miles. So, the UK is smaller than Italy but has a bigger population! 
  • The Italian flag is green, white, and red. These colors represent hope, faith, and charity.
  • The average Italian eats close to 55 pounds of pasta annually. If you think about how light pasta is, that is a considerable amount! There are more than 500 different types of pasta eaten in Italy today. 

What's It Like to Be a Kid in Italy?

  • Kids begin school at 6 years old. They grow up speaking Italian, but they learn English in school, so many become bilingual in Italian and English.
  • The most popular sport for kids is football (soccer). The Italian word for soccer is "calcio," the same word they use for "kick." A favorite of younger kids is "Rody, the bouncing horse," a plastic horse that a small child can hop onto and bounce around the room. Rody was invented in Italy in 1984.  
  • The family ("la famiglia") is a central characteristic of Italian life. Children have great respect for their older relatives. It is traditional to name the first male child after the grandfather and the first female child after the grandmother.
  • If kids live close to school, they can go home and have lunch with their families! Lunch at school might be pasta, meat with vegetables, a sandwich, or a salad with lots of ingredients. Families typically eat dinner later (7 to 8 pm), so kids end up staying up later, too!
  • Between lunch and dinner, kids often enjoy "merenda," which is an afternoon snack that translates to "something that is deserved." It is really a mini-meal that can include both savory and sweet foods. Examples of savory foods are a salami or mortadella sandwich, a slice of rustic bread rubbed with a cut, raw tomato, or "pizza bianca" (white pizza without tomato sauce). Types of sweet foods eaten during merenda are "gelato" (a lower-fat type of ice cream), any kind of cake, or biscotti dipped in warm milk.

Lettuce Joke Around

Today I'll be making fried zucchini slices covered in breadcrumbs.

I've never been covered in breadcrumbs before!

The Yolk's On You

Why did the tomato blush? 

Because he saw the salad dressing!

The Yolk's On You

Why doesn't bread like warm weather? 

Things get toasty!

That's Berry Funny

How do you fix a broken tomato? 

Tomato paste!

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