Panzanella

Panzanella is a popular Tuscan salad made from stale bread tossed with tomatoes, onions, cucumber, fresh herbs and lashings of olive oil. Leave it to those thrifty Italians to come up with such a delicious combination! The bread is soaked in cold water then torn up and tossed with the other ingredients to make this sublime salad. Promise you’ll never throw away your half eaten loaf of expensive Artisan bread, again! Panzanella is best made during the summer months when tomatoes are ripe and plentiful, but those left in the stores now could be tucked into this salad and still taste pretty good. This recipe makes a large salad (enough for 6 to 8) so reduce it to whatever bread you have left over. You don’t really have to measure ingredients – go by your eye and taste. You’re looking for 2 parts bread to 1 part of each salad vegetable, add enough chopped herbs so you see a nice speckling of them throughout the salad and remember to add a river of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Delizioso!

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INGREDIENTS

500g (1lb)stale Tuscan bread (or French or Artisan)
1 red onion (medium)
6 ripe tomatoes
2 cucumbers (English seedless preferred)
1 fennel bulb (optional)
Few basil leaves (parsley could be added)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Red wine vinegar (I prefer freshly squeezed lemon juice)
Salt to taste

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METHOD

1) Cut the bread into thick slices. Soak the bread in cold water for about 15 minutes and then wring it out well with your hands. Tear into chunk sized pieces.
2) Peel the onion and slice into thin rings. Place in a colander or sieve and place under cold running tap water for 30 seconds – this will remove the harsh, bitter onion juices. Shake it dry and set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
3) Peel the cucumbers and cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
4) Wash the tomatoes and cut into large chunks.
5) If using the Fennel Bulb, remove the outer layer and stalk. You can store the stalk in the freezer to add to your homemade vegetable or chicken broth for flavor. Reserve some of the feathery fronds to add to the salad. Chop the fennel bulb into 1/2 inch pieces.
6) Put the bread in a large bowl and add all the vegetables and coarsely chopped herbs of choice.
7) Season with salt and a generous glug of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, toss and refrigerate.
8) Just before serving, add the vinegar or lemon juice, toss again and garnish to taste with more basil leaves.
9) Serve, eat and enjoy the view of beautiful, rolling Tuscan hills around you!

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