Panzanella recipe | House & Garden

The motherland of panzanella is Tuscany, whose cuisine is one of the most povera of all cucine povere of Italy and, as such, bread is one of its main ingredients. Until recently in Italy only the rich could afford to buy meat and fish and the cucina povera (cooking of the poor) as practised by the peasant classes had to use whatever was available in the kitchen or farm or the vegetables grown in their back gardens. My version of Panzanella is a gentrified version of the original. I use crostini because I find it difficult to find the right bread when not in Italy and also because I prefer to munch something slightly cracking than something mushy.

Crostini are made with white bread because it has less flavour than wholemeal. For the same reason they are never dressed with herbs, garlic or Parmesan. They will keep in an airtight container for 3–4 days and also freeze well. Use 2-day old bread if possible.

Ingredients

For the salad

  • ½ large cucumber
  • 250g/9oz cherry tomatoes
  • 6 spring onions
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 200g/7oz crostini
  • 2 tbsp wine vinegar
  • 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 fresh basil leaves, torn into coarse pieces

For the croutons

  • 200g/7oz good-quality compact bread, such as sourdough, crusts removed
  • 3 tbsp olive oil

Method

For the salad

  1. Wash the cucumber and use a potato peeler to shave the skin off in strips so that at the end you have a dark and pale green striped cucumber. Cut into slices and put into a salad bowl.
  2. Wash the tomatoes and cut in half and add to the bowl. I don’t peel the cherry tomatoes for this salad, but if you object to their skins, peel them by immersing them in boiling water for 30 seconds and then rinse them under cold running water.
  3. Cut off the green foliage and roots of the spring onions. Wash and cut them in slices. Add to the bowl. Remove the germ from the garlic clove if necessary, chop and add to the bowl. Now mix in the crostini.
  4. Pour the vinegar over the salad, stir and then pour in the oil. Season with salt and a good grinding of pepper and mix very thoroughly. Taste and check the seasoning.
  5. Put the salad in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes; the salad is better slightly cold. Scatter the basil leaves over the top before serving.

For the croutons

  1. Heat the oven to 180°C Fan/200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.
  2. Cut the bread into 2–3cm/¾ - 1¼in slices and then each slice into 2–3cm/¾ - 1¼in cubes. Put the oil in a bowl, add the bread and mix around in the oil. Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake them for 10 minutes, shaking the baking sheet once or twice during the time.

A recipe from Vegetables all'Italiana by Anna Del Conte (Pavilion Books). Buy the book here.

Panzanella recipe | House & Garden