I was craving a very classic Italian Panzanella salad after eating it at Polpo on my recent trip to London. This famous but very simple salad of stale bread croutons, fresh tomatoes, red onion and basil is so delicious and is very versatile. You can eat it on its own or serve it with a variety of grilled meat, chicken or fish. It’s one of my favourites.
Polpo is a bàcaro. This is a Venetian word to describe a humble restaurant serving simple food and good, young local wines.
It is a departure from your typical Italian pizza pasta joints and has a menu centred around a wide selection of small-plate meals. Apart from the 2-piece ‘Cicchetti – which are just perfect bar nibbles too, the portions are bigger than tapas but small enough so that you can eat a few in one meal sitting. This is my absolute favourite way to eat and I wanted to eat the entire menu.
While I am thrilled to have discovered this restaurant via one of my foodie friends, I am a little sad at not being able to eat there more often. I have not encountered such tasty and simple food prepared so perfectly in a restaurant in South Africa before. The only choice I had was to buy the cookbook, which is now my latest obsession, and cook and eat as much of it as possible.
This is what they say about the book:
“POLPO – A Venetian Cookbook (Of Sorts) is published by Bloomsbury and includes 140 recipes from the restaurant accompanied by luminescent photography by Jenny Zarins.
It chronicles Russell Norman’s inspiration for the restaurants and his culinary journey to Venice’s back-street wine bars and bacari in search of the authentic flavours of the city and region.
It was awarded Waterstones Book of the Year 2012″.
Panzanella is up there amongst my favourite salads of all time (along with a Ceasars salad) and I could probably eat it on most days and never get bored. With only 3 food ingredients, 1 herb, olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, you want to make sure you use the absolute best of all of these. You want a lovely (stale) loaf of artisan sourdough or focaccia, the ripest and best tomatoes you can find, the best quality extra virgin olive oil you can lay your hands on – you use a lot and very fresh vibrant green basil.
*cooks notes – I like to slice the onions quite finely and prefer to use a mandolin for this, a wonderful kitchen tool if you don’t already have one.
I have not stipulated the quantity of olive oil or vinegar, just keep adding in parts until you are satisfied with the taste and texture. The same goes for the salt and pepper. I have used vine rosa and cherry tomatoes which I allowed to ripen at room temperature for a few days. I find these the most flavoursome in South Africa. If you are lucky enough to live in a country that has tomatoes that look like this (pic below) – then use a variety.
I also love a Panzanella with mozzarella – to make a sort of Panzanella Caprese.
panzanella salad – inspired by PolpoPrint Recipe
- 3 cups roughly chopped tomatoes mixed, room temperature
- 1 small red onion thinly sliced
- 4 slices of stale bread from about 8 – 10cm of a loaf
- small handful basil leaves
- extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt flakes
- freshly ground black pepper
- red wine vinegar
- Pre – heat your oven to 180C / 350F. Break the bread into small chunks of about 2cm square.Toss the bread in a bowl with a generous drizzle of olive oil, and rub the oil into the bread. Spread the bread out onto a baking tray and bake until it turns golden and crisp (about 10 – 15 minutes).
- Finely slice the red onions, sprinkle with a little sea salt and allow to stand for 10 minutes.
- Add your chopped up tomatoes to the onions, add a good glug of olive oil and red wine vinegar and toss.Add the torn basil.
- Finally add the bread, toss it all together, allow it to stand for a short while to soak up all the juices, then serve.