How to eat: panzanella | Italian food and drink


RThe gap between aspiration and reality is only greater than in the advice on food waste. Got stale bread that you need to use up? How about making a stuffing of guinea fowl? Or a summer pudding using only the fruits of your garden?

Are you short on time but want to save the planet? Treat the family to some extra bread sauce (like it’s 1879), herb-stuffed mushrooms (like it’s 1979), or make meatless sausage your family is likely to send straight back to you. It goes on and on, in this well-meaning and impractical vein.

Panzanella, the topic of this month’s How to Eat, is very different. Preeminent among summer salads, this no-bake blend of readily available ingredients is stupidly easy and also the most dignified way out of stale bread out of this world; the food waste equivalent of a state funeral. Will the children in your orbit appreciate it more than the medieval gingerbread or the ajo blanco you could have inflicted on them? Unlikely. They want frozen pizza. But fortunately Panzanella will distract you from their whining.

Or it will be if you treat this Tuscan salad right. This is where How to Eat – the series examining the optimal iteration of our favorite dishes – can help. Read on for that rare treat: a dish of stale bread you really want to eat.


You will want a variety of bread sizes and textures. Photograph: Natalia Ruedisueli / Getty Images

OKAY. Are you sitting for this bomb? The bread does not need to be stale. It can be. Sure. But unless you get off the molto autentico route (discussed below), it does not have to be. It is surely a relief. Who wants to limit themselves to eating panzanella only when you have stale bread to use? It’s way too good for that.

No, rather than stale, the bread should be roasted and dried. This will ensure that it is sturdy enough to soak up the juices from the salad and retain its structural integrity, but – as the salad is allowed to sit for a few minutes before serving * – in an unpredictable way that produces a variety of textures in the pieces. bread: from soggy but still pleasantly soft pieces to lightly sprinkled chips that, at their edges, break with a satisfying crunch.

To achieve this, it is essentially a matter of making XL croutons, bites of bread (oiled, salted, possibly with herbs and licked with garlic), which, after 20 minutes in the oven, take on a tanned and baked firmness. Interestingly, heat briefly reverses retrogradation (starches reassembling into a crystalline structure), making stale bread hard. Baking gives stale bread a second freshness that can only improve your panzanella.

This directly contradicts the many recipes which, obeying the peasant origins of panzanella, unappetizingly recommend moistening pieces of stale unroasted bread with water, vinegar or vinaigrette and, after wringing them out, adding them. with salad. Such advice dates back to a time when people used very old and leathery bread, had no access to an oven, and had only a limited expectation of experiencing pleasure before death. What made sense in 17th century Florence can only in 2021 (maybe HTE refer to Saint Yotam of Ottolenghi?), Create pockets of wobbly, waterlogged mulch in your salad.

Is HTE’s approach inauthentic? Yes. Deliciously so. But keep in mind that panzanella was once a onion and bread salad, to which tomatoes were not regularly added until the 20th century. Do you want to eat panzanella without tomatoes? Of course not.

The bread you use should be able to withstand moisture and jostling. Medium sliced ​​white bread would easily disintegrate into a gummy froth. Instead, the panzanella requires something chic and dense, rustic and well-constructed: the bread version of a rugby union back line. Plain sourdough (nothing too flavored) or a heavy ciabatta will do.

* Especially when using crusted sourdough, if you don’t let the salad sit for a while, some pieces will retain a hard titanium edge. No one should lose a tooth from panzanella.


Red onion, tomatoes and garlic are essential, along with capers and anchovies. Photograph: Tim Scott / Getty Images

Red onion, tomatoes, garlic, capers and anchovies are essential. Roasted peppers, firm seeded cucumber, pickled olives, and fresh basil are desirable. Almost everything else is not. Think layered panzanella: a base of restrained umami flavors (anchovies, garlic, bread), a mid-level explosion of fruity and sunny flavors, and playing around that, various tangy and tangy top notes.

Two related subjects require the greatest attention here: tomatoes and vinaigrette. Invariably, you are asked to use tomatoes so ripe that they are about to collapse and spend a lot, to ensure maximum flavor. This orientation is generally judicious. But let’s be realistic. It’s already a salad with multiple punchy flavors. Fantastic tomatoes are best, but they don’t have to do a lot of heavy work. With a generous pinch of salt to bring out their lean flavor, even the worst tomatoes will do.

As for the vinaigrette, do you need it? Draining the tomatoes as a base, adding garlic, oil, vinegar and anchovies etc. is a lot of trouble when, essentially, the panzanella is self-gravy. Simply combine the basic ingredients, plus crushed garlic, seasoning, and finely chopped anchovies, mix everything together vigorously – which helps break down the components on their edges – then assess where you stand in terms of moisture ( mainly determined by how mature your tomatoes are). Work from there, adding enough olive oil to grease the interplay of the bread and the veg, and – if the capers or olives haven’t spiced enough – a few drops of white wine vinegar. for more acieeeeeeeed.

Unacceptable ingredients

Without wanting to sound like a backbone Conservative MP, is there something people will not put in a lawyer these days? In the panzanella, it’s a firm advocate from How to Eat.

The addition of cauliflower looks like a dark cloud from Northern Europe against this light and blue Mediterranean backdrop. Radishes ring a similar austere Protestant note in the midst of this Catholic riot of color. Adding a rocket is just weird.

Beans of any description threaten heaviness where there should be light. Feta can also hang around. It adds a claggy element to what should be the gentle interplay of smooth, moist ingredients. Likewise, adding hard-boiled eggs (a hangover from a time when any egg was a treat?) Or tuna doesn’t make sense here. As everyone knows, untreated, mayo-free canned tuna is one of the driest substances on the planet. It will turn your salad into a protein-packed slog.

From dried fruits to oranges, from cold cuts to asparagus, there is no end to the ways people will try to divert panzanella from the path of true justice. Chillies and mint, in particular, seem like additions that put it on a whole different path. In the mouth as in the garden, mint is one of the most invasive herbs, imbuing everything it touches, even briefly, with a deep flavor of, well, mint. Who wants that in the panzanella?


The ideal panzanella salad is served in wide and deep bowls. Photograph: sbossert / Getty Images / iStockphoto

You can choose to serve your panzanella in common, from a huge bowl or a central platter, in the frankly mistaken belief that sitting in Bedford, Bolton or Belfast will turn your family into the inexplicably multigenerational kind of tribe. happy to see you enjoy la bella vita outside a Tuscan farmhouse in television commercials for olive oil.

In reality, it is a recipe for disaster. There are plenty of hard-to-manipulate elements in this salad that will defy any attempt – huge spoon, ladle-shaped device, salad servers or universally unnecessary tongs – to serve you neat from any central mound. You will end up with more panzanella on the table than in your mouth.

Instead, serve the panzanella in deep and wide individual bowls (not on plates or you’ll be chasing it for weeks) and don’t worry about making it pretty. You might come across artfully layered panzanella plates or even instructions for serving it over toast, like a sprawling, out of control bruschetta. Nonsense! It needs no arrangement, no basil garnish, no crouton title. It’s a dish that actively takes advantage of mixing its ingredients and – unlike so much messy and confrontational Italian cuisine – its sparkling colors and textures create a visual stun no matter how haphazard you prepare it.


“Fork or spoon,” you ask? To which the only obvious answer is both. No doubt a salad that leaves a residue of soup, that “deconstructed gazpacho” like a BTL wag once had, requires a fork to prick combinations of ingredients and a spoon to finally thin out.


The sweltering summer days when you turn on the stove and work hard on it is anathema. Hot nights when you want a refreshing liquid meal. Long, sluggish evenings where you need to fill your tummy without feeling full and without significantly exerting yourself.

To drink

With such a circus of ingredients, you talk less about combining a fluid with precision and elegance to create mythical third flavors than, on a sweltering day, of opting for something cold, bright and assertive that can hold up. while refreshing your palate. Good lager, hopped pale ales, rosé and crisp dry white wines will suffice. Don’t overspend. If you open something that you prefer to enjoy, save it for another time.

So, panzanella, how do you eat yours?

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