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.
extra virgin olive oil
white wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
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.)
(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.)
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.
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.