I’m back after another break and this time it’s with Panzanella – Bread & Tomato Salad. The monsoons should be on their way out. It’s just been raining and raining without a break. A bad cold, cough and fever kept me down the past two weeks. A couple of doctor visits, medicines, rest, and lots of warm fluids later I’m almost back to my normal self.
Right now, Kerala, the South Indian state where I live is deluged by floods. Unusually heavy rains have meant that the rivers are flowing in full force. All the dams in the state are at full capacity so they have had to open them out to reduce the water levels. The result has been that most of Kerala is battling heavy flooding. Rescue efforts have been hampered by incessant rains and flowing water. Loss of homes, loss of power, food and drinking water shortages are just some of the problems. We have been lucky to be safe and dry. This too shall pass, like everything else, but the situation is serious and heartbreaking.
Life must go on, we must move forward, and be of as much help as we can. As my daughter likes to say, “It is what it is”. So let’s get back to Panzanella. Naturally, I haven’t been cooking much these past couple of weeks. Three days back though, a sudden craving for bread had me making some Focaccia. I love that but need a change from it. That’s when I decided to make a bread based salad.
Panzanella is an Italian salad, Tuscan actually, that makes very good use of stale country bread. Variations of this salad can be found across the Mediterranean. I understand that Panzanella was made even before tomatoes came to Europe. It seems in the early days, it was made with onions, purslane and cucumbers!
Panzanella, at the most basic level, is made with bread, tomatoes, basil and a light vinaigrette dressing. That’s how I’m making my Panzanella today. Don’t use fresh bread because you need bread that’s a bit dry. Here I’m using 2 day old Focaccia because that’s what I had.
This salad can however, be made with different vegetables, plain roasted or grilled even. Red onions, cucumber, bell peppers, sweet corn are some vegetables that work really well here. Any vegetable that would sit well in a sandwich should, really.
I like to do a couple of things differently to add some flavor and texture to my Panzanella. The first thing is I like to toast my bread pieces for some crunch. It also prevents the bread from getting soggy. The other is that I salt the tomatoes and keep them aside for about 15 minutes. This adds flavor to the tomatoes and I use the resulting salty tomato juice to make the vinaigrette. I also prefer the taste of lime juice to vinegar.
Panzanella – Bread & Tomato Salad
For the Salad :
- 8 to 10 large tomatoes
- 1 tsp salt
- 250 gm country or sourdough bread
- 1 medium onion thinly sliced
- Small bunch of fresh basil leaves
- More salt for seasoning
For the Vinaigrette :
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 tsp garlic paste
- 1/2 tsp mustard paste English or American
- 2 tsp honey
- 1 tsp red chilli flakes
- 1 1/2 tsp lime juice
- Cut the tomatoes in smaller pieces and put them in a colander or strainer placed over a bowl. Add the salt and toss well. Keep aside for about 20 to 30 minutes for the tomato juices to drain from salting the tomatoes.
- In the meanwhile, toast the bread pieces in the oven or on the stove till they’re a bit crunchy. Don’t dry them out.
- Put the salted tomatoes in a salad bowl. Reserve the drained tomato juices for the vinaigrette. Add the sliced onion, the toasted bread and torn basil leaves.
- Whisk together all the ingredients for the vinaigrette and the tomato juices. Add to the ingredients in the salad bowl. Mix gently to coat well. Season with more salt if necessary. Let it sit for about 15 to 20 minutes for the bread to absorb the vinaigrette and the flavours to develop.
- Serve. Do not refrigerate. This salad is best made about half an hour before serving.