I had my first taste of panzanella in a Tuscan restaurant in Cagliari called the Royal. It was always heaving with people and there was no menu. The frenetic owner would rattle off three or four choices for three or four courses in a fast-paced Italian, and often the choice would be made by watching the degree of enthusiasm in her eyes as she described the various dishes. In the end I think I chose panzanella because it just sounded nice – a bit like ‘Barbarella’ – the 60s fantasy film in which Jane Fonda is threatened with death by surfeit of pleasure in a fearful contraption called an orgasmatron, accompanied to frantic organ music…. Well, this dish can be very addictively pleasurable and it won’t bring about death. At the Royal it was served on its own as a starter (top it with a spoon of warm ricotta), but it’s also good as a lunch with sardines, and with butterflied lamb. Judy Rodgers (Zuni Café) served hers with roast chicken.
MARINATE ALERT!!! Make AT LEAST one day before serving… keeps for ages (a week or so) so you may want to make extra
- nine cups of stale-ish bread cut into very small cubes (1 cm/less than ½ inch). Sourdough is ideal.
- 2 bulbs of fennel
- 2 cucumbers
- large bunch of basil, and maybe some mint if you have any to hand
- 2 red onions, chopped up very fine
- 12 plum tomatoes
- 500 ml /2½ cups olive oil
- 120 ml/½ cup of white balsamic vinegar
- about twenty pitted black olives (NOT the type in brine – if you must buy those, go here to see what to do with them)
- 6 tsp smoked salt
- about ten grinds of pepper
mix the whole lot together, and leave covered cling film, in the fridge for at least a day.
What to eat with panzanella:
- butterflied lamb
- grilled white fish
- Halloumi cheese, or even better, Georgian Suluguni, cheese
As you can see it was a RIDICULOUS film…