Panzanella

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Panzanella is a perfect dish for the hot weather we’ve been having, as it is refreshing, makes good use of the summer’s bounty, and the basic version doesn’t require any cooking. Originally it is an Italian peasant lunch prepared to use up old bread: the bread is mixed with tomatoes, cucumber, onion, olive oil, and vinegar, and by the time it is ready for lunch the bread will have soaked up the juices and has become soft and flavorful. Some recipes let you soak the bread in water, but soaking the bread in the juices will make the panzanella much more flavorful.

This version is based on a panzanella that Auldo prepared for me once, when we used it as a base for a lobster tail we had left after preparing lobster bisque. The additional trick he uses is that the bread and cherry tomatoes are roasted in the oven to give the cherry tomatoes extra flavor and to give the bread a nicer texture. For a more traditional and simpler version, simply skip the oven and just mix all the ingredients together and wait for a couple of hours. It will still be nice.

The two golden rules of Italian cooking also apply here: (1) use only the best ingredients (especially the tomatoes are important)  and (2) there are as many versions of this classic recipe as there are Italians. Some people leave out the cucumber, or add olives or even anchovies. This is up to you, but if you want to keep calling it panzanella please stay within the bounds of what an Italian would use (e.g. no jalapeños or soy sauce, please). I am not providing exact amounts, as this is a dish where you eyeball the quantities. I’d recommend to have about twice as much tomatoes, cucumber and onion as bread.

Ingredients

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ripe flavorful tomatoes, preferably heirloom, it looks nice if they have different colors

onion

cucumber

stale bread

extra virgin olive oil

white wine vinegar

salt and freshly ground black pepper

fresh basil

Preparation

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Slice the onion into rings.

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Soak the onions in water to which you have added a bit of vinegar for 2 hours to soften their flavor (optional).

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Remove the crust of the bread (optional).

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Cut the bread into 2-3 cm (1 inch) dice.

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Roast the bread and halved cherry tomatoes in the oven at 150ºC/300ºF (fan forced) until the bread has crisped up and the tomatoes are starting to color (they should not become too soft!), about 15 minutes. (This step is optional, as mentioned in the introduction.)

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Slice the tomatoes and cucumber.

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Put the tomatoes and cucumber in a bowl. Add white wine vinegar.

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Tear the basil leaves into big pieces and add them as well. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss to mix. The salt will draw out some of the juices and concentrate the flavor.

(If making the quick version without using the oven, just add the bread at this time to as well as the onions, toss everything, and refrigerate for a couple of hours.)

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After half an hour or so, transfer the tomato and cucumber slices to another bowl with a slotted spoon.

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The juices will stay behind.

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Soak the bread in the juices. The bread should be soft on the outside and still have some bite on the inside. You can achieve this result by using enough juices (not too much, not too little) and by stopping the soaking as soon as the texture is right.

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Add the onions and the roasted tomatoes to the other tomatoes and cucumber.

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Add extra virgin olive oil and the soaked bread. Toss to mix. Taste and add more olive oil, vinegar, salt of pepper if needed.

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Serve the panzanella immediately. (This is important for the improved version where you soak the bread to get the texture just right.)

Flashback


Sea bream cooked in salt is a typical dish from the Mediterranean. It is a nice way to cook this fish, and if you do it right it doesn’t become as salty as you may think. Instead it will be very flavorful and juicy.

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6 thoughts on “Panzanella

  1. Was about to cook this salad (if it can be called a salad) tomorrow, but without cucumber. Your option looks great, love colourful tomatoes!May be will add cucumber too:)

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  2. Yes, like ‘sybaritica’ I make a lot of fattoush of which this is a ‘cousin’ . . . well, almost every country around the Med seems to have its own version. Must try the oven-roasting tip next time around, which, in my case, need not be next summer . . . I eat salads around the year :) !

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  3. This salad is one of the reasons I have tomato plants every year. Nothing quite like making panzanella with tomatoes fresh from the garden, Stefan. Lightly roasting the tomatoes and bread is a great idea and is sure to add a bit more flavor to an already tasty salad. Reading this had made me even more anxious to see my tomatoes ripen. :)

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  4. To paraphrase you Stefan, this post is so ‘You’. I smiled when I saw the neatly ordered rows of sliced vegetables. The end result looks delicious.
    Best,
    Conor

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