Recipe: Panzanella! Delicious Italian bread salad.

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I don’t like sandwiches. I’m not mad about bruschetta, or pizza, or even the humble dinner roll. Bread and butter pudding is not for me, and toasties I can just about take. Beans on toast, Eggs Benedict and we are getting there, but panzanella… THAT is my kind of bread.

Panzanella is a delicious, tart Italian bread salad, with fragrant basil and red onions and sweet tomatoes and pepper. The best bread to use is days-old, stale crusty bread and I work in a french deli so there is plenty of the stuff in my life! Today I used an old Parisian baguette, but sourdough works well too. You can opt to add capers and anchovies to the salad – I keep capers in the house for the sole purpose of making this dish, but anchovies do not darken my doorway so I leave them out. The pepperiness of the red onions and the acidity of the white vinegar and tomato juice are right up my street – it is a very savoury, summery and refreshing dish.

So there is no real recipe – or rather, there are loads of them, and you can alter the ingredients to suit your tastes and what you have in your fridge. It’s nicest to use orange or yellow peppers, for a more colourful dish, but I only had red. If you aren’t keen on raw onion, reduce the amount used by half. Add a whole tin of anchovies if you wish! Do as you please.

You will need:

1 red onion
About 600g tomatoes (salad, beef, heirloom etc)
200g stale crusty bread
4 tbsp white wine/cider vinegar
1 large or 2 smaller bell peppers, ideally yellow or orange
A handful fresh basil
Capers (optional)
Anchovies, finely chopped (optional)
6 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove
Salt and pepper

1. First of all, lets take a moment to admire my chopping board. It was a wedding present from family friends in Australia. It is made from an antibacterial wood (eucalyptus?) and it smells amazing!

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2. But the real first step: finely slice the red onion into strips, place into a bowl and cover in water. Add a pinch of salt and leave to soak for about an hour while you prepare the rest of the salad.

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3. Rinse the tomatoes and chop into bitesize chunks (I cut mine into eighths). Make sure to cut out the tough part where the tomato stalk was. Set a seive over a bowl and put the tomatoes into the sieve. Sprinkle over a pinch of salt and set aside.

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4. Cut your bread up into chunks, about the same size as the tomato chunks. I prefer mine on the smaller side so they can soak up the dressing quicker. If your bread is really solid, you will need a good, sharp bread knife! Place the bread chunks into the main salad bowl and glug over approximately 4tbsp of white vinegar. Stir and leave to soak.

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I had too much bread, so I diced the remainder and put it in the freezer so I can easily make this dish again!

5. Now, deseed, halve and rinse the peppers. Using a kitchen blowtorch, or on a baking tray under a hot grill, heat the peppers until the skin blisters and ideally turns black. For me this took about 5 minutes under the grill.

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6. Allow the blackened peppers to cool, and remove the skins by running a butter knife along the surface of the skin. Finely slice the pepper into strips.

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7. Into the main salad bowl, add a tablespoon of capers, anchovies (if using), and the strips of pepper. Press the tomatoes into the sieve slightly to release the last of the juice, and tip the tomatoes into the main salad bowl. Drain the red onion, rinse under fresh water, and add to the bowl. Rinse the basil, tear it up, and toss into the salad. Give everything a good mix.

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8. Now, you should have a small pool of tomato juice that has collected into the bowl under the sieve-full of tomatoes. To this, add around 6tbsp olive oil and a crushed garlic clove, and give it a good mix. Pour the dressing over the salad and stir through. If necessary, season the salad with salt and pepper.

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9. Cover the salad and let it sit for half an hour to an hour before serving.

10. Let me know what you think in the comments below!

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