I adore panzanella and have tried lots of different variations in pursuit of a really, really good recipe. The one I now use is a combination from Nigella Lawson's Kitchen, Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Every Day and The River Cafe Cookbook. While the ingredients and quantities mostly come from Nigella, I've borrowed Hugh's technique of saving the juice from the tomatoes and I sometimes add blackened, peeled peppers as The River Cafe do. If I were making the panzanella just for me I'd also add anchovies and capers.
Panzanella is a wonderful recipe, using up stale ciabatta and tomatoes which are beginning to overripen. If your ciabatta isn't stale cut it into 2cm cubes and leave it out for a few hours or put it in a low oven for 10 minutes to dry the bread out. I don't bother skinning the tomatoes but deseeding them is a must and I find that cherry tomatoes make the task easier but regular tomatoes work just as well too.
Panzanella can be made in advance and will keep for up to two days in the fridge but it should be eaten at room temperature for maximum flavour.
- 60ml good quality red wine vingear
- small red onion, thinly sliced into half moons
- ½ clove garlic, crushed
- 2 yellow or red bell peppers
- 500g ripe tomatoes
- 100ml extra virgin olive oil
- 250g stale ciabatta, cut or torn into 2cm cubes
- large handful basil
- ½ tsp sea salt flakes
- black pepper
- Turn your grill on and set it to a high heat.
- Pour 60ml of red wine vinegar into a large bowl that will comfortably contain all of the ingredients and add 1 sliced red onion and ½ a clove of crushed garlic. Leave to steep for at least 15 minutes or longer if you can.
- Place 2 whole bell peppers under the grill and turn occassionally until the skins have blackened all over. Remove from the grill and leave to cool.
- Deseed 500g of tomatoes into a sieve placed over a bowl to catch the tomato juice. Discard the seeds and add the tomato juice to the bowl with the vinegar. Give the onions and garlic a good stir then remove around 2 tablespoons of the vinegar into a small jug or cup, reserving it for later.
- Chop the tomatoes into small-ish chunks, then add them to the vinegar bowl along with 100ml of olive oil, 250g of torn, stale ciabatta and most of a large handful of basil, reserving some leaves for later.
- The peppers should have mostly cooled by now. Remove the stalks and seeds then peel off the blackened skins. Chop the flesh into small chunks and add to the bowl.
- Season with salt and pepper. Give everything a good mix, using your hands to scrunch everything together. Taste the panzanella and add the reserved vinegar from earlier if needed.
- The panzanella can now be left in the fridge with the remaining basil on top, or you can eat it straightaway, mixing the remaining basil straight in.