panzanella phobia

Panzanella is one of those classic dishes that I have always avoided. Usually I’m first in line when it comes to trying new things but for some reason the idea of a salad based on tomato and stale bread has never been able to pique my interest.

Even while travelling though Tuscany (the birthplace of Panzella) during the height of summer I was never even once tempted to choose Panzanella from the many fabulous menus that were placed before me. I think my reluctance stems from my innate mistrust of commercial tomatoes. Don’t get me wrong I love tomatoes, freshly picked from the vine. BLT is one of my favourite sandwiches (although the bacon seems to override and deficiencies from less than perfect tomatoes). The problem is that I have tasted tomato nirvana (home grown heirloom tomatoes eaten straight from the bush…warmed by the sun) and after realising just how delicious a tomato can be it’s hard to go back… I tend to bypass recipes where tomato is the star ingredient unless I can use canned ones.

The other day I was flipping through my second christmas gift cookbook treasure (thanks Nao!)…Jamie’s Italy, when a gorgeous looking salad caught my eye…. none other than Jamie Oliver’s version of the Tuscan tomato & bread classic…. As I read through the chatty two page recipe and poured over the fabulous pics I could feel a change happening within… I wanted to make panzanella…

So next time I was at my favourite temple of fruit & veg: Fratelli Fresh, I carefully selected some of their tastiest looking tomatoes and decided that this summer I would overcome my fears and give panzella a go. My mid week panzanella dinner was a memorable one, fresh and bursting with flavour the bread moist with the dressing and juices, with a glass of Barossa grenache…all good things….
panzanella for one
inspired by jamie oliver
serves 1.
3/4 punnet vine ripened cherry tomatoes
1 sm red capsicum (red pepper)
few salted capers, rinsed
1 lge slice stale wholemeal sourdough
1 red shallot, peeled & very finely sliced
small handful basil leaves, torn
1T red wine vinegar
2T extra virgin olive oil
3 anchovy fillets, sliced into 2 long halves

Char red capsicum over a grill or flame until blackened. Cover and set aside to cool then peel blackened skin and remove seeds. Puree until you have a thick paste.

Halve cherry tomatoes and place in a bowl, squash gently with a spoon to release their juice. Tear bread into chunks a similar size to the tomato halves and add to tomatoes with the capsicum puree, capers, shallot and most of the basil.

Combine oil and vinegar, salt & pepper and then toss through salad. Allow to stand for 10mins but no longer than an hour. To serve, sprinkle with remaining basil leaves and drape over anchovies.

postscript: I enjoyed the salad so much I decided to make it for a picnic with my littlest sister and her boyfriend at the moonlight cinema and serve it with a bbq chicken. Unfortunately Breakfast at Tiffanys was cancelled due to rain so our 7pm picnic turned into a 9pm dinner at my place, meaning that the panzanella was sitting around for a good few hours…..never a good thing for a salad and particularly so in this case. Think bread so mushy it had become a pasty mess… thank heavens Joel had brought a gorgeous wine…1998 Wynns Michael Shiraz from the Coonawarra…yum