Thursday, June 5, 2008

Panzanella alla Senese

Panzanella is another favorite of mine. Traditionally, it was a poor man's dish, and I discovered it during my studies in Siena, Italy, where it rapidly became a favorite among cash-strapped students. Panzanella is a typical Tuscan dish (the Sienese will say typical Sienese...), whose ingredients can vary according to the region or city that you're in. It's a great summer salad, with bright and fresh colors which just entice you to eat it even more.

This version is the basic one and my favorite one, but I've also had it enriched with parsley, little cubes of pecorino cheese, carrots, capers and artichoke hearts. I even had one with anchovies once, but I prefer this basic recipe. Either way, it's a great way to use those last remaining slices of the leftover white bread.

If you wanna try some really funky alternative versions of this traditional dish, check out Heidi's 101 Cookbooks Blog at

What goes in it?

500 g of old, somewhat stale white bread (you can do it with ciabatta, but it'll work better with Italian-style farmer's bread or what the Italians call pane casalingo)
5 ripe tomatoes2 red onions
a large handful of fresh basil leaves
6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar

This will serve about 4 or 5 people.

Let's get cookin'

1. Take a large bowl or cooking pot and fill it about halfway with cold water. Place the slices or pieces of old bread in the water and leave them to soak for about 10 minutes.

2. Remove the bread from the water and tear it up into rough pieces and squeeze out the water with your hands. Now, break up the pieces into large morsels and put them in a large pot. Make sure that the morsels of bread are almost completely dry.

3. Cut up the tomatoes into eights (or quarters if the tomatoes are quite small, the aim is to avoid having slices which are either to thick or thin) and remove the seeds from the inside. Cut the onion into thin slices (rings). Also, cut up the majority of the basil into long slices, but leave some leaves to decorate the dish with later.

4. Add the tomatoes, basil and onions to the bread. Use your hands to mix all the different ingredients.

5. Add salt, pepper and olive (about 4 of the 6 tablespoons). I tend to add quite a bit of salt and pepper, as the bread, oil and tomatoes soak up a lot of the salt. Softly mix all the ingredients.

6. Leave the salad to rest for about half an hour in the fridge. Afterwards, right before serving it, add the wine vinegar and the remaining two spoons of olive oil. Decorate the salad with the remaining leaves of basil.

A feast for both eyes and tastebuds!!

Buon appetito!

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