Panzanella – A vegetarian version of a traditional Tuscan salad
Living in Barcelona means you get a lot of visitors. For me this is a huge treat as I love to cook for people and it gives me a nudge to try out new recipes.
With guests here this week, I asked on twitter & facebook whether to make a Tuscan tomato & bread salad or an Asian noodle salad. The vote came back for the former (thanks everyone!), so I searched around for a recipe. At first I looked online, but soon came back to my trusty Jamie Oliver “15 Minute Meals” cookbook. This recipe definitely has some twists on the more traditional versions. For example, lots of the traditional versions suggest you use stale bread and soak it in water. This version makes a tomato dressing and uses toasted bread instead. If I’m honest about it, that just sounded a whole lot more appealing!
First, a bit of background info. Panzanella is a really traditional Italian dish, and having eaten it I can see why it has been around so long. Not only is it delicious, it’s perfect for a hot summer’s day and really makes the most of the lovely ingredients the Mediterranean weather can provide. Apparently the use of tomatoes began in the 20th century and before that it was based on onion – not quite as appetising, somehow. Anyway, the idea is that it uses up leftover bread and provides a hearty meal with only a few ingredients.
So, with no further ado, here is my take on the Jamie Oliver “15 Minute Meals” take on Panzanella. A version of a version! I’ve changed the salad to suit my tastes, fit the ingredients we had to hand and also to make it vegetarian.
Panzanella – Vegetarian Version – A simple 10 step recipe
These are guideline amounts to serve 4 – I think the portions are fairly large. The nice thing is that this is a forgiving recipe, so if you don’t quite have enough of something, don’t worry. The only thing you need plenty of is tomatoes & bread!
- 400g ripe tomatoes – get the best ones you can and slightly over-ripe is better than under
- 1 clove garlic
- 4 spring onions – just the pale section
- A handful of basil – to taste
- Olive oil – good quality
- Balsamic vinegar
- Salt & pepper & a pinch of sugar
- More tomatoes! Another 400g, same as above
- 1/2 a baguette – Traditionally you would use ciabatta, but we couldn’t find any and found that a good quality crusty baguette was a fine substitution
- 3 tablespoons of capers
- 200g roasted red peppers (these are easy to make, or just buy a jar – we used a mix and homemade had a juicier flavour, but jarred had a nice smoky quality)
- More basil
- Make the dressing first by blending up the tomatoes, pinch of sugar, garlic, basil & spring onions. I just chopped the tomatoes very roughly then popped everything in a tall jug and used a stick blender to make a thick dressing – a little like gazpacho in appearance. There will be a lot of it. Don’t worry, that’s right and, believe me, it’s delicious!
- When all blended add the olive oil & balsamic vinegar. I used around 1 tablespoon of each, but adding it at the end means you can do it to suit your palette – same with the salt & pepper. Make sure you use enough salt, without decent seasoning it is a little flat.
- Pour the dressing into a large bowl – big enough to mix the whole salad in.
- Now to get the salad ready. First slice your bread in half and either dry fry/toast it lightly. You just want to encourage it to remain as crispy as possible when you mix it into the dressing.
- Chop the bread into chunks – don’t worry about whether they are even or not, this is a very free and easy salad!
- Chop the rest of the tomatoes into bite-size pieces
- Rinse the capers & add to the bowl
- Chop/pull apart the red peppers into bite-size pieces and throw into the mix
- Add some extra basil – this is to taste. I really like the sweetness of the basil against the raw garlic in the dressing, so I used lots!
- Check the seasoning, add a drizzle of olive oil and then – at the last possible second – add the bread and give everything a really really good mix around. It will start soaking up all the lovely dressing straight away.
I like there to still be a crunch to the bread so I try to do this just before serving. Other recipes suggest that you can make it the day before and leave the flavours & textures to develop – I’ll leave that up to you!
Et voila! Panzanella!
We ate ours with undressed lettuce hearts chopped up – the salad made enough dressing for those too. Jamie Oliver serves his with sardines. I think it would be nice with most meats – some grilled chicken or perhaps even pork fillet. It would also be nice to go with a BBQ or as part of a buffet/picnic.
– This is strongly flavoured with the raw garlic – you could use less if you’re not a big fan, perhaps just half a clove. Alternatively I tried it with fresh garlic (also called “wet garlic”). This was definitely less fierce, but I think it lacked the heat of the raw garlic and wasn’t quite as more-ish.
– Some recipes use cucumber. I thought this would be too watery, but it could be a nice counterpoint to the garlic.
– If you can only get rubbish tomatoes, then leave it for another time. They are crucial to the quality of the dish.
– Some fresh chilli might be a nice addition to spice it up.
– We made this for 2 recently and used the leftover tomato sauce as a dressing for a bulgur wheat salad with red pepper, cucumber and tomato mixed in. It worked really well, used sparingly and with a little extra balsamic & olive oil added. A great way to use up leftovers!
Have you made this before? Or something similar? If you have any tips leave a comment and let us know!
If you’re after some good bread to use in your Panzanella why not try our No Knead Bread recipe? Seriously… no kneading. It’s amazing!