This recipe is a Greek take on the classic Italian bread and tomato salad, with loads of fresh oregano, mint and basil as well as hearty beans to make this a proper lunch or light supper. Panzanella is the ultimate picnic and lunch box salad, actually getting better as it waits. Mediterranean, colorful, and so very good for body and soul.
Panzanella is as much a celebration of the exquisite taste and utility of the tomato as it is a way of using up good but stale bread. Known largely as a cunning way of transforming a spare hunk of bread into a hearty but fresh-tasting dish, panzanella – bread and tomato salad – is quite simply a stunner of a supper. Whether eaten in a slightly overcast Scottish garden, bees buzzing amongst the roses and sweet peas, or in Tuscany, on a battered trestle table under a canopy of grape-laden vines, panzanella is a perfect summer, throw-together salad.
If I wasn’t wanting and needing to make other recipes I would quite happily settle on this colour-rammed salad pretty much all summer long, adding and subtracting ingredients as required, and desired. There are just so many ways a basic panzanella can go – add sliced, hard-cooked eggs or cooled, cooked beans for a shot of protein; have a mix of roasted and fresh veggies (like I’ve done here); change up the herbs; use citrus instead of the usual sharp vinegar. It’s all okay.
— Unless you ask an Italian mama. Don’t ask just do, is my advice.
— And definitely don’t tell her that her precious panzanella has gone Greek!
Why you will love this summer-kissed salad
1. It is a great way to use stale bread. In fact, don’t bother making this UNLESS you have stale bread. You could dry bread out in a low oven, but seriously, just let a good, artisan loaf (ie preservative- and additive-free) go a bit dry, cube it up and toss it in. That is literally what you do. Oh, and the better the bread, the better the salad.
2. Panzanella is just the best picnic salad. You put the whole thing together, dressing and all, pack it away and hit the road or trail. After you’ve had your swim in the sea or flung your blanket on the forest floor, tuck into this salad and feel just a bit smug at your cleverness. Soggy sandwiches and delicate leafy salads will never be on your picnic menu again.
3. It’s helluva healthy. There is nothing in here not to like. Not only is it flipping delicious and satisfying, this juicy salad is a nutritional wunderkind. Even that bread – good stuff, whole grain and additive-free – is a healthy part of this recipe. Ripest tomatoes and peppers, olive oil, best vinegar, garlic, best bread (albeit stale), fresh herbs, crunchy green beans, red onion, a few plucks of Kalamata olive, creamy beans. Irresistible.
4. It’s flexible. This bread and tomato salad can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish. You can go kitchen sink or ascetic monk and it will be good. Better than good. Just make sure your (top notch) bread is stale, tomatoes just picked (or near as dammit), your olive oil extra virgin and your acid sings both sweet and sharp.
Have you had Panzanella? What are your tips for making and eating it?
This recipe is a Greek take on the classic Italian bread and tomato salad, with loads of fresh oregano, mint and basil as well as hearty beans to make this a proper lunch or light supper. Panzanella is the ultimate picnic and lunch box salad, actually getting better as it waits. Mediterranean. and so very good for body and soul. xx
100g (3.5 ounces) stale best bread – gluten-free is fine
1 kg (about 2 lbs) ripest tomatoes – a mix of varieties and sizes is nice
1 tsp salt plus extra as required
1 each of red and orange peppers
1/4-1/2 red onion, thinly sliced and placed in a small bowl of cold water to tame them
2 tbsp sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
4 tbsp best extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled, crushed and minced
100g (3.5 oz) green/fine beans, topped, tailed and boiled for four minutes then cooled
150g (5.3 ounces) cooked beans, such as cannellini or borlotti
8 Kalamata olives, flesh pinched from the stone
Large handful of basil, oregano and mint leaves, washed and torn if large
1. Chop the tomatoes into bite-size pieces, saving any juice. Pop the pieces into a fine sieve, sprinkle with 1 tsp of salt (it helps draw out the juices) and set over a bowl to allow the juice to drain for about 15 minutes, tossing occasionally. You will be using the juice in the dressing.
2. For the peppers, there are two ways to go. The first way is to blister the peppers over an open flame (I did mine on my gas hob, turning with tongs) or in a 220C/430F oven for 40 minutes. You want the peppers blackened. Use your hands to initially rub away the blackened skin, following up with a paper towel to get the rest. Now chop them into bite-sized pieces. OR, just chop and use them raw!
3. Once the tomatoes have drained, add the vinegar to the bowl of tomato water then whisk in the oil, adding it in a steady drizzle. Whisk in the garlic and Dijon; taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as you wish.
4. Now it is just a matter of putting it together. Add the chopped tomatoes and peppers to a large serving bowl, followed by the red onion, green beans, cannellini beans, olives, bread and most of the herbs. Pour over the dressing and toss well. Then toss some more. Let the flavours meld for at least half an hour before serving. Toss one more time before serving. Scatter over the remaining herbs.
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