For me the best bit about bread (if you don’t make your own you can eat warm from the oven) is the fact it goes stale and allows you to use it for all kinds of things. I love croutons, I love schnitzel style meat, I love stuffing. All made possible by the power of stale bread.
But I have a particular love for Italian style stale bread dishes. We spent time on holiday in Tuscany when we were children and we used to go to sagras or festivals in the local town. These each specialised in certain dishes. There was frog and trout, there was wild boar. There was the Florentine beefsteak one that remains the moment I most regret of my teenage vegetarianism. And then there was something called zuppa Etrusca or Etruscan soup.
Basically a bowl of chilled soup filled with cabbage, beans and stale bread along with fabulously ripe tomatoes, it was amazing. It came served in a beautiful glazed blue and white bowl and I volunteered to take one for the team and have a second portion so we could have a full set of bowls for the house. We still use those bowls and I still dream about the soup.
But rather than ruin a good memory by trying my own version that might come up short, I tend to make panzanella instead in the summer. Basically bread meets Greek salad but with capers instead of olives, it’s a great warm weather meal. It’s a dish that suits a spot of improvisation for me so you can be sure this version isn’t wholly authentic.
Often panzanells is dressed with an abundance of oil and vinegar that can feel both sickly and astringent to me if you aren’t using the very best quality in both so I’ve adapted the dressing to reduce the need for as much oil or vinegar. I can also stick to Lidl quality instead this way. My dressing is a salsa verde of cucumber, basil, oil, vinegar and capers to give a light bright feel. Very quick and easy.
The one thing you can’t skimp on though is the bread. If you use sliced Kingsmill or Warburtons type bread, you’ll get wallpaper paste. You could use something more loaf like such as a farmhouse loaf or some sourdough. I used some Polish half wheat half rye chleb I’ve been buying recently that’s a bit more robust than a sliced pan.
Panzanella-ish Bread Salad: serves 4 as a side
- 4 slices bread
- 2 small cucumbers or 1/2 large cucumber
- 300g cherry or vine tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons drained capers
- 1 anchovy fillet (optional)
- 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
- handful fresh basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Dice one (or half the) cucumber and salt slightly. The smaller Turkish ones seem to work better in this dish. Cut the tomatoes in half and add to dish. Allow to sit and mellow for at least 30 minutes.
Cut the bread into inch squares, leaving the crusts on and add into the cucumber and tomatoes. Dice the onion and toss in as well.
Put the remaining cucumber in the hand blender in chunks. If you are using a big cuke, peel it. If a little ‘un, leave it as it is. Add in the capers, anchovy (if using), basil leaves, oil and vinegar and blitz until it is a soft loose consistency. Add a drop or two more oil and vinegar if it seems a bit thick. It will vary due to the water content of your cucumber.
Pour the cucumber dressing over the bread and the vegetables and toss well so it coats the bread. Allow to sit for up to 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavours to develop and everything to warm slightly as both tomatoes and cucumbers are not at their best when fridge cold.
I served mine with some grilled fish but this is so versatile it will go with anything. It doesn’t keep well, but it’s unlikely there will be much left anyway! I’ve made this twice since and I can’t get enough of it!
PS: my gorgeous Guzzini serving dish was a very kind gift from Red Candy. I’ve used it a lot this summer including here for salad, but I thought it deserved to be shown looking its very finest with these lovely red tomatoes!