My One True Salad Love – Panzanella
TUSCAN BREAD SALAD
Bread gone stale? Perfect! Here’s how we make it shine.
If there’s one salad I go back to time and again without fail, it’s this one. But only if I have good tomatoes on hand.
It’s as simple as it gets, a hand full of ingredients thrown into a bowl and tossed around.
There’s something about the textures and the intensity of flavours that I can’t get enough of. It has a kind of rustic but refined quality about it which means it can double up as a lunch on it’s own, or it can be a best supporting actor on your next Italian dinner menu.
Usually it’s made with stale bread, but that’s something I don’t usually have lying around my kitchen. Instead, I get a good sourdough baguette with a very crunchy crust and tear it up. You can toast it in the oven if you want, it’s totally up to you. I prefer the chewiness of the crust rather than a crouton like texture, but that just me.
If there’s one thing that makes it shine though, it’s using quality ingredients. Find the freshest and ripest ones you can because it will make all the difference. It’s simplicity means there’s nowhere for dull flavours to hide so do make the extra effort in this department.
I’m sure my version has wandered away from the traditional, but that’s what cooking is all about, finding your own road and having fun. Enough talk, let’s eat.
- 10 Cherry tomatoes per person - or 2 plum tomatoes (cherry/plum/heirloom) as long as they are properly ripe.
- 1 small Sourdough baguette with good crunchy crust
- Basil - small bunch
- 1 tsp Crushed fennel seed
- 1 tsp Red wine vinegar
- 3-4 Anchovies per person
- Olive oil - a good splash
- 50g Fresh mozzarella per person
- Red onion - optional - small amount - sliced very finely
- -If you’re using the red onion, start by cutting paper thin slivers of onion and put in a bowl. Add a pinch of salt and sugar and red wine vinegar with a half cup of water and leave it to pickle for 10 mins. (this will soften the onion flavour and take out the bite)
- If not
- 1. Cut your tomatoes into bitesize chunks and put in a bowl.
- 2. Crush them by hand so all of the juice and seeds come out.
- 3. Add vinegar, salt, pepper and fennel seeds to the tomato juice and balance the flavour.
- 4. Once the salt has dissolved, add the olive oil and mix.
- 5. Throw in the bread, coat it with a little olive oil first, then toss thoroughly to absorb some of the juices.
- 6. Finish with the basil and onion (if you're using it). Mix it through.
- 7. Tear up some fresh mozzarella pieces and add at the end along with some anchovies. A sprinkle of salt and a splash of olive oil on to the mozzarella and you’re done.
- -If you don't have to use stale bread either. I regularly use the strong crust of a good sourdough loaf too if I have that.
- -If you can be bothered, toasting the fennel seeds in a pan before crushing them will increase their aroma and flavour. I would recommend it but that depends on how much time you have or want to spend.
‘READ ON FOR PICS AND TIPS’
‘FOR THE FOOD NERDS’
As I mentioned in the intro, this one is all about letting the ingredients do the talking. So do get better ones if you can.
This salad is all about contrasting flavours and textures. The chewy crunch of the bread against the soft mozzarella and crushed tomatoes. The acidic sharpness of the tomato and vinegar against the gentle creaminess of the cheese. The floral herbiness of the basil and olive oil against the deep umami of the anchovy.
A few tips
- Tomato temperature – if you’re making this salad, do try and use tomatoes that are at room temperature. They really do taste whole lot better than ones kept in the fridge.
I always keep just enough tomatoes for daily use in a bowl in the kitchen so they’re always ready to go.
- Working your vinegar – I am fairly loose with my shopping choices and like to try a different brand every time, (it’s my Fear Of Missing Out). Which also means I end up with some vinegars that are harsher than others. But what you can do is season your vinegar before using it.
Normally I pour some vinegar, give it a pinch of salt, taste it, adjust the salt until it’s right, then do the same with a pinch of sugar, taste it, and keep working it until it get’s a better balance. You’ll find that it will become a more rounded and a whole lot better.
- Salting salad dressings – if you’re making salad dressing, always mix the salt and the acid/vinegar first and stir it until the salt is fully dissolved. That way you will have a proper idea of how salty it is. Add the oil in last. Salt won’t dissolve into oils or fats, it needs water to do that. Which can lead to over salting your dressing if you’re not careful.
- Toasting your (whole) spices – I always try and buy whole spices and do the toasting and grinding myself. The flavour is so much more intense if you take the extra 5 minutes to do this, rather than buy pre ground/mixed spices. Buy small amounts if you can as spices tend to go stale if not used within a few months. As always fresher is better.
Warm your pan to medium and add your spices. Give them shake quite often, so they don’t burn, and wait until they release their fragrance before quickly whipping them off and into a mortar and pestle or grinder. Don’t leave them in the pan too long as they will burn and end up bitter.
(If you don’t have a mortar and pestle or grinder, you can even use a bowl and the back of the handle of your knife, a pinch of salt will stop them from sliding around. See pic 2 above)
- Oiling the bread – You might have noticed that I poured the olive oil onto the sourdough bread in my pictures above. This is because I was using fresh bread rather than stale. And by adding the oil to the bread first, it will keep it’s chewy texture longer than if I drop the fresh bread into the vinegar.