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Panzanella is a traditional Tuscan salad of bread and tomatoes that is popular in the summer. This salad definitely demands quality ingredients: the sweetest tomatoes, super quality bread – not sliced pan! – the best olive oil you can find and really good vinegar.
Generally Panzanella will have peppers included in the recipe – you can add these if you wish. I have excluded them for 2 reasons. I myself don’t like peppers, or rather they don’t like me , and in my catering work I find many clients asking me to leave out peppers.
To my Italian foodie friends – I hope I have done this recipe justice! I believe in keeping Panzanella as close to its origins as possible. If you have not made or tasted this salad before, please give it a try – I’m sure it will not disappoint!

Serves 4-6

Ingredients 

  • 800 grams mixed tomatoes (plum, vine, cherry – various colours)
  • 150 grams red onion (2 onions)
  • 1 small stale sourdough baguette or ciabatta (150 – 200 grams)
  • 1 cucumber
  • 150 grams Kalamatta olives
  • 2 tablespoons salted capers
  • 1 small clove garlic, crushed to a paste
  • 1-2 tablespoons good quality sherry or red wine vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • Seasoning: Himalayan salt and crushed peppercorns
  • Small bunch of fresh basil, lightly torn
  • Vegetarian

  • Low GI – Go easy on the bread element.

  • Vegan

  • Dairy Free

  • Diabetic Friendly – Go easy on the bread element.

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Method

  1. Cut the tomatoes into large dice; cherry tomatoes can be halved. Season with salt and place tomatoes in a colander over a bowl – this will allow juice to drain. After 30 minutes, gently press the tomatoes to squeeze out the last juice, and then put the tomato flesh in a separate bowl.
  2. Slice red onion as thinly as possible (I used a mandolin). Place onions in a small bowl and cover with boiling water; leave for 30 seconds then drain. Spread out on kitchen paper to remove excess liquid.
  3. Tear the bread into chunks about the same size as the tomatoes, then place in a separate mixing bowl.
  4. Cut cucumber length-ways and remove seeds (I used a melon baller to do this). Slice thinly and set aside.
  5. Roughly chop capers, add to same bowl as tomato juice.
  6. Whisk the crushed garlic, vinegar, olive oil, tomato juice, capers and seasoning in a small bowl or jar. Have a taste – it should be a little sharp. The bread will balance the flavours.
  7. Lastly combine the tomatoes, onion, bread, cucumber, olives and 2/3rd of the basil leaves in a large mixing bowl. Pour the dressing over the top and toss thoroughly. Let it sit for 10 mins – 1 hour for flavours to develop. Transfer to serving bowls or a large platter and garnish with basil leaves.

Maggie's Tips

  • The reason I blanch the onions for use in this salad is that it mellows the sharp aftertaste onions can have. Blanching the red onions also helps bring out their vibrant pink colour.
  • If you are coeliac or gluten intolerant and want to make this salad I suggest you really try to source good quality GF sourdough bread or make your own. The soft, cake–like texture of GF breads won’t deliver for this salad.
  •  Tomatoes are rich in Vit C, K, A + Biotin, copper, fibre and many more goodies.
  • Best to source organic tomatoes if possible as non-organic versions are often high in pesticide residues.
  • Tomatoes are best in the height of summer when the sun has kissed their skins and developed their glorious sweetness.
  • The fragrance of good quality olive oil is unmistakable – especially new season extra virgin olive oil (first press). The scent of new season olive oil is typically called ‘green’, with a light fruity note. Like wine, extra virgin olive oil has complex depths of flavour and scent.
    Depending on country or region of origin, various fragrance notes will emerge, such as fresh cut grass, sweet apples, toasted nuts or even citrusy lemon. These contribute a lot to the oil’s final flavour. So you might want to check what your bottle of oil smells like. If the above scent notes are missing it might be a good time to purchase a new bottle – preferably from your local farmers market or local deli.
  • Always source olive oil in a dark glass bottle or a tin. Store in a cool dark pantry, fridge, or cupboard away from direct sunlight.