Panzanella: Tuscan Tomato and Bread Salad

That vibrant red is appealing isn't it.

Looking out the window at a snowstorm today, I must admit to thinking a little wistfully of eating this salad a couple of weeks ago in mum and dad’s front yard.

I realise that this is well out of season, but as a couple of weeks ago I was home in New Zealand, happily eating this in my parents front yard I had to share it.

Panzanella is a classic Mediterranean salad, and so has all the classic Mediterranean flavours: basil, garlic, olives etc. But tomatoes are definitely the hero. It’s great with lovely fresh, vine ripened tomatoes. If however, you live in a country where it’s winter 9 months of the year then greenhouse tomatoes can be helped out a lot by ‘soft’ roasting them – not enough to dry them out like sundried but rather just to intensify their flavour a bit (quarter them, add salt+pepper and a glug of olive oil, optionally some herbs and roast at 150C for about an hour).

This is also great in the sense that it’s really a filling, ‘meaty’ salad. It’s lovely.

The following feeds about 4-6 people as a meal itself, more if you have it only as a side. Scales easily to feed many more.

  • 500g of tomatoes
  • 500g (about 4-5 slices) of good, crusty, gluten-free bread
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2-3T capers
  • 3-4 shallots
  • a handful of good olives
  • a generous handful of fresh basil
  • red wine vinegar
  • lots of olive oil
  • a handful of fresh basil
  • salt and black pepper
  1. Put a pan on a medium heat with a generous amount (about 3T) of olive oil.
  2. Slice or rip the bread into large chunks, roughly mince the garlic cloves and when the oil is to temperature add the garlic and bread into the pan. It might sound like a lot of garlic but to be honest it benefits from a strong garlic flavour and cooking tastes out the acrid bite and leaves your with oily garlic croutons. Awe-some.
  3. Finely slice the shallots, tip them in a bowl and tip over the vinegar. I pretty much always use this trick when using raw onions in a salad. In a similar way as with the garlic, we’re taking the acrid burn out of the onions. This time by ‘cooking’ it with acid.
  4. Roughly slice the remaining ingredients and chuck them in.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. When the croutons are done, I usually tip them in too, so that they sit on top and leave for a couple of hours. In this way, the garlic oil from the croutons drips down and gets friendly with everything else, some croutons suck up the vinagrette and tomato juice and some croutons sit on top and stay crunchy.

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