Trying to choose a name for this salad I did some online research in an attempt to discover what a ‘classic’ Panzanella salad consists of. Some included mozzarella, some not. Some had cucumber and some had olives. I don’t have complete clarity on the issue, but with all things in cooking, just trust your instincts and make what you like.
My version is a chopped up Caprese salad mixed with golden chunks of fried bread, finely sliced red onions, and it’s utterly delicious.
This sort of salad is my ultimate kind of lunch. I could probably eat it every day and never get bored. The flavours are bold and marry so perfectly with each other. It’s summer on a plate and party in your mouth.
There are a few things I do that I think make a difference to the success of this salad:
1. I always ripen my tomatoes out of the fridge. I sometimes put them in the sun or a sunny spot in my kitchen and I don’t mind one bit if they start to wrinkle. This tells me that they are at their peak in terms of ripening, and it is only at this point that I may put them in my fridge to stop this process and preserve them a little longer. The result is a very juicy and sweeter tomato that is perfect for this salad.
2. I love to use a good artisan loaf of bread. My preference would be sourdough or in this case a sourdough rye. I want the bread for this salad to have some bite and texture to it. A pre-sliced and processed loaf would be completely out of the question. I like to cut the bread rind off and only use the inner part.
3. The dressing is so simple and only consists of two ingredients, so I choose a really good quality red wine vinegar and the best extra virgin olive oil I can find in my cupboard.
3. I love the crunchy taste of a natural sea salt flakes and this is a crucial element to the dish. Don’t be shy with it.
4. As for mozzarella, do I need to even mention that a proper fior di latte is the only way forward here. Soft and silky, it balances out the sharpness of the tomatoes and onions.
5. Garlic. I do love it but there are times when I simply don’t feel like its intense presence or having garlic breath. I think 1/4 or 1/2 a clove would be wonderful in this salad, but on this occasion I left it out.
I don’t have accurate measurements for this salad, just make however much you want.
for the salad:
- about 2 cups of sliced ripe cherry or rosa tomatoes or whatever you have around
- half a red onion very finely sliced
- a small handful of basil shredded or finely sliced into ribbons
- about 2 cups of cubed sourdough bread (edges and rind cut off)- stale is best
- olive oil
- about 1 T of butter
- 1 x 150g fior di latte mozzarella ball
- red wine vinegar and olive oil for the dressing
- 1/2 a crushed garlic clove (optional and could be very nice)
- sea salt flakes
First up, slice the tomatoes and put them in your bowl with the finely sliced onions, a sprinkle of salt and toss them around a bit. You want to release some of the juice which will then interact with the red onion. This delicious liquid forms part of the dressing that gets soaked in the bread.
Then move onto cutting the bread into cubes and heating a non stick frying pan. Add a generous splash of olive oil and when hot, fry the bread turning over and tossing them so that you fry as many of the sides as possible. Once it is looking quite done, add the butter around the edges of the pan to evenly distribute it and then toss the bread around. This just gives them more flavour and turns them into more delicious crunchy golden croutons. Allow to cool slightly, or add them warm.
When you are ready to eat, add the bread to the tomato and onion mix, and toss this with the basil, red wine vinegar and olive oil and more salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix, taste and adjust until its perfect and just the way you like it. Serve on top of slices of the mozzarella (I find if you toss it through the salad too much it tends to mess it up and make it quite white), or places a few strips in and around the salad.
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