Panzanella is one of those excellent Italian recipes where frugality transcends virtue to become something greater. It marries stale bread with sweet, juicy tomatoes to give you the perfect summer salad, one with flavour and a bit of heft.
It is a meal in itself. Here in the UK this is the ideal time to make it, while home-grown tomatoes are at their sun-ripened best. There are many versions: I prefer my panzanella to have some chew so I make croutons rather than allowing the bread to collapse into a mulch. I hope I’m not treading on too many Italian toes.
Mrs Portly returns!
Apologies to regular readers who may have noted my absence from these pages – I’ve been running short residential cookery courses here at Mrs Portly’s Kitchen and time has been at a premium.
Getting everything shipshape and compliant with Covid safety rules after more than a year in mothballs has been something of a marathon but I’ve really enjoyed teaching again and sharing the house and garden with like-minded people.
The bespoke courses were a good way to get back into harness and Covid permitting, I’m hoping the cookery school will re-open with a normal timetable in the autumn.
Look out for some exciting new classes! If anyone would advance notice, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the mailing list. Right, enough puffery, let’s get cooking …
Mrs Portly's Panzanella
200g sourdough or ciabatta, stale or fresh, whatever you have handy
1 red pepper and 1 yellow pepper (or use chargrilled red peppers from a jar)
8 large ripe tomatoes (a mix of colours looks good)
¼ red onion, finely sliced into half moons
3 anchovies, finely chopped (optional)
2 tspn capers
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 tbsp good olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A handful of fresh basil
Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6. Cut the bread into large bite-sized chunks, toss with 1 tbsp of oil and cook in the oven for about 10 minutes, turning halfway through. They should be pale gold and crisped on the outside but still springy in the middle.
Put the sliced onion in a bowl, cover with warm water and leave for half an hour to take some of the astringency away. Drain well and set aside.
If you’re using fresh peppers, blacken the skins over a gas flame or using a cook’s blowtorch. Place them in a bowl, cover with cling film and leave for 20 minutes. Peel off the skins, de-seed them and cut lengthways into strips. If you’re using jarred peppers, drain well, then cut them into strips.
Put the vinegar in a jar with the remaining oil, crushed garlic, chopped anchovies (if using), the capers and a good grind of salt and black pepper and shake well.
Chop the tomatoes into chunks roughly the same size as the croutons. Put them, along with any juices, into a serving bowl with the croutons, peppers and onion and drizzle with most of the dressing. Mix thoroughly and leave for about an hour for the bread to soak up the flavours.
Check the seasoning and texture, adding more dressing if necessary, and garnish with basil leaves. Don’t refrigerate the salad or you will spoil the flavour of the tomatoes. Because as we all know, tomatoes should never be stored in the fridge. (Debate me.)