Sometimes you ‘discover’ a dish that is a well-known classic and yet somehow, you’ve managed to go through your entire life and not try it. Until recently, Panzanella was one of those recipes. I’ve long been aware of it – a Tuscan classic made up of toasted stale bread made into chunky croutons, ripe, sweet tomatoes, fragrant basil, the bite of onion and a generous pouring of excellent olive oil – and what’s not to like. But for some reason, pre my free-from diet I’d never managed to enjoy one, and since being a gluten free, dairy free, egg free, soy free and yeast free creature, there has never managed to seem the right moment to make what is essentially, a bread salad!
But then lo! Two things happened, one is that I discovered how to make this amazing gluten free, vegan and yeast free bread – which, by the way, makes the most incredible croutons. Secondly, I was made this variation of panzanella by a friend using the aforementioned bread, and I was completely blown away by both the vibrancy of flavours and the simplicity of the salad. It really is a handful of things, thrown to together, drowned in dressing and then left to meld – my idea of heaven! If like me you’ve attempted to grow tomatoes this year then you should find that now is about the time when you have the last and generous flurry from the plants. Nothing tastes better than a home-grown sweet tomato and this dish is a perfect way of showing them at their best. Though of course, good tomatoes, on the vine, from the shop will work just as well.
Here, golden, slightly salty, crisp chunks of bread, sweet and crisp apple (my one addition to the classic), juicy tomatoes, lots of fresh basil and red onion, marinated in lemon juice to take away that bitter bite that it can sometimes leave. Lots of olive oil, seasoning and there you have it...my new favourite thing, Apple, Tomato and Basil Panzanella.
By the way, I tend to serve this as it is, as a delicious lunch for two – sometimes a few slices of ripe avocado on the side. But it goes beautifully as an accompaniment to grilled chicken or cooked meats, especially lamb, and will extend to four people if served alongside other bits and pieces. Try it with my Honey Baked Leg of Lamb (from the book) and some roasted sweet potato for a particularly delicious supper.
APPLE AND TOMATO PANZANELLA
1 red onion
1 eating apple
4 thick slices of day old bread – I use this Chickpea Bread
4 tbsp olive oil
The juice of 1 lemon
A handful of fresh basil leaves
Preheat the oven to 180c and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Tear the bread into bite size chunks and scatter over the baking tray. Pour over half of the olive oil and season generously with sea salt. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until golden and crisp. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Peel the onion and slice into thin half moons. Place the onions into a bowl and pour over the lemon juice, massage the lemon into the onion slices and then leave to sit for 20 minutes. This will soften the onion and take away any bitterness it may have.
Core the apple and cut into bite size pieces. Slice the tomatoes in half or quarters or more depending on their size. When ready, combine the tomatoes, croutons, onions and lemon juice and basil leaves in a large serving bowl. Pour over the remaining olive oil, season with sea salt and black pepper, toss together and leave to rest for 30 minutes (in the fridge or at room temperature) so that the tomato juices can relax into the bread. Toss gently and then serve.