Panzanella is always delicious, and always, somehow, unexpectedly so. The idea of bread in a salad isn’t one that always springs to mind when making lunch. Sure, we have salad in bread all the time, but bread in salad? That is something special.
This one was inspired by a starter I ate at Pizza Express way back in May. It was good, but they had completely drowned the poor thing in a stickily sweet balsamic that was more like a thick sauce than a dressing. I thought I could do better.
Now is the perfect time of year for this salad because the tomatoes are so full of flavour. You could use any sort, even halved cherry tomatoes. They go perfectly with crisp cucumber and a bit of onion. The vinaigrette is light and tangy, with only a little hint of sweetness. The baked croutons are wonderfully crunchy but aren’t oily. Every now and then, you come across a caper which add saltiness without overpowering. The basil is just divine – as it is in most things.
I know deseeding a cucmber seems a bit fussy, but its all for the good of the salad. The seeds would make the bread soggy, which would make the panzanella sad.
Panzanella with balsamic vinaigrette
For the salad:
100g fresh white bread cut or torn into roughly 1 inch cubes
½ a large cucumber
2 ripe tomatoes
2 tsp. capers, rinsed and drained
½ a red onion
Large handful fresh basil leaves
Sea salt flakes
For the dressing:
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 finely chopped garlic clove
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
5 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. dark brown sugar (optional)
Preheat the oven to 170°C.
Brush the bread pieced with olive oil and sprinkle over some sea salt flakes. Bake in the oven until golden and crisp – about 15 minutes. Leave to cool.
Cut the cucumber in half lengthways and use a spoon to remove the seeds. Dice the tomatoes and cucumber halves into 2cm cubes. Chop the red onion into about 2 cm squares.
To make the dressing, mix the vinegar with the salt (and sugar if using) until dissolved. Add the garlic and pepper, then mix in the oil a little at a time until well combined.
To serve, combine the capers, onion, diced tomatoes and cucumber and basil in a large serving bowl and mix well. Drizzle over the dressing to taste. Any leftover dressing can be stored in a fridge for a few days.