A Tuscan staple during the searing summer months. | by Zeno
Posted August 1, 2008
Typically, famers would eat a light breakfast at 6 AM as they left for the fields and another more hearty morning meal around 9 AM after several hours of hard labour. This meal needed to be portable, filling and, like all Italian food, satisfying to the taste. Panzanella fit the bill perfectly, since it could be prepared the day prior and utilized day old bread and vegetables that were in abundance during the hot summer months.
Today, Panzanella makes a delightful lunch in itself, especially if complemented with sliced cured meats and a nice glass of red wine under the shade of a pergola or umbrella. Alternatively, in smaller quantities, it is ideal for an antipasto or palette cleanser.
Warning! Use spring onions that are quite young to avoid the strong taste and smell of onion throughout the rest of the meal!
- 350 g of hard, day old bread, Preferably Tuscan or other unsalted bread.
- 200 g of salad tomatoes, not too ripe as you want them to keep their form.
- 1 handful of fresh basil.
- 2 spring onions
- 1 cucumber
- Extra Virgin Tuscan olive oil, the real thing not imitations from other regions . . . it does make a difference.
- Red wine vinegar.
- Black pepper.
Remember to use slightly hard, day old, unsalted bread. If Tuscan bread is not available, whole grain bread will work as well but avoid overly flavoured types. If you need to speed up the aging process, cube the bread into 2 cm squares and leave to dry in a bowl. Do not remove the crust.
When you are ready to begin, place the bread cubes in a bowl and cover with water. Leave to soak for 20 minutes.
In the meanwhile, clean and wash the spring onions, basil, tomatoes and cucumber (do not peel). Cut the tomatoes and cucumbers into cubes more or less the same size as your bread. Slice finely the spring onions making sure to include some of the green portion and open the rounds so you are left with individual bands. Mince the basil and place all the vegetables into a large salad bowl.
Drain the bread, pressing out as much of the water as possible. Don’t worry if some of the bread crumbles. Add to the vegetables. Season with pepper, salt, a good amount of vinegar and the oil. The bread will absorb a lot of the oil and vinegar so don’t be shy. Mix and leave to rest for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Best served at room temperature or slightly chilled but not cold. If kept in the refrigerator, let warm on the counter prior to serving. a sprig of basil on top adds a nice visual touch.