Panzanella – the classic Italian tomato and bread salad

If you’re a follower of my blog then you’ll know about my obsession with Italy and all things Italian. Particularly the food. The people of this very special place seem to have a magic touch when it comes to flavours and combinations. They can make the simplest dish taste like one of the most delicious things you’ve ever eaten.

Although the Caprese salad has a special place in my heart and is one of the first things I eat when I get to Italy, Panzanella is another classic Italian salad that proves you need not trade flavour and deliciousness for simplicity.

Now that we’re finally marching into summer here in New Zealand tomatoes will be gracing my fruit bowl (yes, they’re a fruit, not a vegetable) throughout the warmer months. And tomatoes are definitely the hero of this dish, along with the fabulous bread. Tomato and bread salad? Thank you, Italy!

So let’s get down to business.

Firstly, the tomatoes. I think this salad is elevated a notch when made with a variety of tomatoes. It’s entirely your choice. Try to vary the colours also and your dish will really sing.

Secondly, the bread. You’ll find some recipes saying ciabatta. I prefer a good-quality Sourdough. The bread is better when a little stale. But if you have a lovely fresh loaf of sourdough and want to make this salad, then cut up the bread, lay it on a baking sheet and put it in a low oven, say 150°C, for around 5-10 minutes. This will help to dry it out, which is how you want the bread before it starts soaking up the beautiful juices from the tomatoes and the dressing.

P1010187

Roasted peppers are also common in Panzanella but I prefer to leave them out. I do, however, consider capers and anchovies a must. What are your preferences? Tinker with the combinations until you get the salad exactly as you like it.

As for the herb of choice – it has to be basil!

 

Panzanella

Serves 3-4

P1010200Ingredients

  • 200g good quality sourdough bread
  • 600g tomatoes
  • ½ red onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
  • 8 anchovy fillets, in olive oil
  • Freshly ground sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Small handful fresh basil leaves

Method

  1. Slice the bread into chunks or simply tear into chunks. Lay the pieces out on a tray and leave to dry out a little while you make the rest of the salad. Some prefer to remove the crusts but I think the texture of the salad is much better if the crusts are left on (or perhaps I just love the crust!)
  2. Cut the tomatoes – cherry tomatoes can be left whole or halved. Cut the larger tomatoes into good-sized chunks. Place into a bowl along with the sliced red onion.
  3. Season with freshly ground salt and pepper. Remember that anchovies are quite salty.
  4. Sprinkle over the capers. Take 6 of the anchovy fillets and chop them up finely. Add to the bowl, along with the bread and carefully stir everything together.
  5. Whisk the vinegar and olive oil together. Roughly tear the basil leaves and add these to the bowl along with the vinegar and oil. Give everything a good toss (but gently) to ensure all the ingredients are well-coated in the tomato juices and dressing.
  6. Check the seasoning and ensure it’s to your taste.
  7. Leave the salad to stand for around 15-20 minutes to give time for the flavours to settle and the liquid from the tomatoes and dressing to soak into the bread.
  8. Serve garnished with basil leaves and the remaining anchovy fillets.

When it comes to the matter of how to serve this divine salad, there’s much to be said for letting it be a meal in itself. I chose to serve it with beautifully fresh monkfish, pan-fried with a squeeze of lemon. Monkfish has a fabulous meatiness and works particularly well with Italian and Mediterranean flavours.

P1010206And as we’re moving into summertime – Panzanella is a great addition on a summer’s evening to be served with grilled meat.

Buon Appetito!P1010197

 

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