The weather here has been overcast the past couple of days, which is unusual considering the time of year. But because it’s been hot, I haven’t had that stay-at-home-and-watch-old movies-while-snuggled-under-a-blanket-with-a-cat-and-a- cup-of-tea-feeling. Rather, I’ve been craving food that’s fresh and bright, probably to make up for the gray skies and muggy heat. And you know what? This salad hit the spot.
Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of panzanella, often finding it over-dressed and soggy, and way too vinegary for my taste. But –I became a total convert while we were in Italy this summer visiting Roly’s parents.
We were staying in a sleepy little town in Umbria, and the local lunch spot—a tiny little place on the corner of the main piazza with a great view and lots of character—had this on the menu. Roly ordered it a couple of times, and I always ended up having a bite or two (ok maybe more) because it was SO. GOOD. It was crisp and light and not soggy at all, and the reason Roly loved it was because it was served with a creamy ball of buffalo mozzarella on top.
I liked it so much that I’ve been making panzanella for us to eat at home. This is my version of it—it includes the olives and basil from the one we ate in Italy, but also has the addition of fennel and cucumbers for extra crunch and texture. The original also included marinated red peppers, but I omitted those here.
- 1 small baguette, torn into bite-size chunks (you can use any bread with a good crust)
- 1 ½ cups red cherry tomatoes (about a dozen), halved
- 1 ½ cups yellow cherry tomatoes (about a dozen), halved
- 1 large stalk celery, finely sliced
- 1 small fennel bulb, finely sliced
- ¼ red onion, finely sliced
- 2 small cucumbers
- 1 small handful basil leaves
- 1/3 cup black olives, pitted and sliced in half
- 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 180°C. Place the bread onto a baking tray and place in the oven for 5-10 minutes or until golden brown and slightly crisp. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Slice the cucumbers in half lengthways, then scoop out all of the seeds using a teaspoon and discard. Slice the remaining parts of the cucumbers into thin half-moons.
Place the tomatoes, celery, fennel, onion, cucumbers and olives in a large bowl.
Add the oil and vinegar, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Gently combine all of the vegetables with your hands, then allow to rest in a covered bowl for 10-15 minutes.
Gently lift the salad out of the bowl (I recommend using your hands) and onto a serving platter (this will cause the dressing to remain in the bowl, so that the vegetables don’t sit in a pool of it and become soggy over time), add the bread and garnish generously with basil leaves.
This salad is delicious with the addition of buffalo mozzarella or burrata.