Panzanella (Italian Bread and Tomato Salad)

It’s been a lovely summer here. Lots of warm evenings sitting outside eating great cheeses and amazing bread. There has been some cooking going on though, and once again I find myself apologising for not blogging for the longest time. In my defence: I’ve been busy eating lovely food and enjoying life.

The discovery of the summer for me has been the Italian bread and tomato salad, Panzanella. Dismissed by one family member as soggy bread salad, he was merely echoing my own expectations. When we actually tasted what I had made (courtesy of Claudia Roden’s ‘The Food of Italy) we very quickly revised our opinion, and now I find myself hoping I have some stale sourdough left over so I have an excuse to make it.

This is best made when tomatoes are at their ripest, so if you’re going to make it, make it now. The bread you use also makes a huge difference – ensure you use a slightly stale (one or two days old) sourdough or country loaf, with a good thick crust.

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Photo Credit: Scott Phillips

RECIPE serves 4

250g stale bread, cut or torn into rough chunks

600g ripe tomatoes, cubed

1 red onion, diced

1/2 cucumber, diced (peeled if you like)

2 stalks of celery, finely diced

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

a handful of basil leaves, torn

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Start with the tomatoes, and salt them in the bowl to encourage their juices to flow.

Now add all the other ingredients and stir well so everything is coated in everything else. Leave it to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the flavours to mingle and develop, check the seasoning, and that’s it!

For variation: you can take the crusts off the bread, which gives a more uniform but, I think, a less interesting texture. You can also lightly toast the bread beforehand. Try different ways of preparing the bread, and try different types of bread as well, the way you like it is the way it should be prepared.

You can further augment this with whatever takes your fancy and works: if you’re having it with grilled fish, for example, try zesting a lemon into it and using the juice of half a lemon in place of a tablespoon of the red wine vinegar. Or you could turn it into a summer vegan main course by slicing avocado into it. Let your imagination run wild, it’s how you discover lovely things.

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