Cottage Panzanella

Sometimes, the best of part of the meal is the fresh bread, but day-old bread is usually not welcome at the table. Throughout culinary history, some inventive ways have been devised to save dry, stale bread from the bin. The French  deserve credit for the cute, crunchy little croutons that are the star of  a classic onion soup. Middle Easterners save pita by toasting it, then breaking it up over a fresh, lemony Fattoush salad. The Italians do it with Panzanella.

A mad mob of French breadmakers will be quite disappointed to know that I have sacrificed many a half-loaf of freshly baked baguette the second day. What makes baguette an irresistible bread, even for someone like me who usually finds other things more appealing at the dinner table, is the beautiful delicate crunch of the outer crust and the billowy soft center. The next day, one of two things will happen. If the baguette is left open air, it will transform into a brick, best suited as a self-defense weapon.  If stored in a plastic bag, it turns into a spongy soft bread, which does not sound all that bad, except that crunchy crust is gone.
Day-old bread serves best torn right over the fresh Panzanella where it soaks up the dressing and all the delicious juices from the vegetables.  This rustic salad is so quick to make and so lip-smackin’ delicious that I have already made it THREE times in the last 2 days! It’s peculiar, really, that I had never thought to try it before. As I was running down Andrea’s list for July’s Cottage recipes, my eyes screeched to a halt at Panzanella. It was finally time for me to make it.

Here, day-old bread has never been in better company. The cool crunch from the Persian cucumbers, the briny capers and kalamatas, creamy, salty feta cheese, sweet little cherry tomatoes, fragrant basil and slight punch from the shallots all get a turn to take center stage. The bread soaks up the fruity olive oil and tangy lime juice along with hints from all the other ingredients. 

I cannot seem to get sick of this salad and have an unavoidable urge to finish whatever is left in that bowl. All this talk about Panzanella made me so hungry that I could not stop thinking about it. So I just ran to the fridge to grab what little leftovers we have to munch on while writing to you. It certainly helps that I’m married to Farmer Shawn and enjoy homegrown tomatoes. They taste like sweet candy right off the vine. The basil is also from our garden. Invest in quality ingredients. Try different brands until you find the ones you like best. Al Wazir is our olive oil and Valbresso is our favourite feta cheese.

Cottage Panzanella
Inspired by River Cottage Veg

Serves 6

1 lime
1/3 cup fruity extra virgin olive oil
Freshly cracked black pepper
2 good handfuls of vine-ripened cherry tomatoes
2 Persian cucumbers
1/2 a loaf day-old baguette
10 pitted kalamata olives
1/2 a small shallot
1 1/2 tsp capers, rinsed
handful basil leaves
2 Tb crumbled feta

Wash cucumbers and tomatoes.
Rinse basil leaves under cold water, set aside to air-dry.

In a big bowl, grate the zest of the lime, extract its juice,
drizzle olive oil, sprinkle black pepper.
Use a fork to blend dressing until it thickens to an opaque lemon-yellow sauce.

Slice cucumbers and tomatoes into the bowl.
Very thinly slice the shallot and add about 1 Tb to the bowl.
Add the capers and olives.
Tear basil and bread over the lot.
Use two spoons to toss gently.

Thanks to Andrea for suggesting this one, many a half-loaf of baguette has been saved from the bin in a mouth-watering combination of signature Mediterranean flavours. Once again, I have strayed from Hugh’s instructions a bit and embellished with a few variations. I assure you the results are fabulous and if I have lucky enough to find Hugh reading this post one day, I hope he will taste it and smile with approval.

One bite will have you convinced this is what you want for dinner on any summer night. So light and refreshing, yet hearty and satisfying, rustic Panzanella features all the elements of a classic time-tested salad. What will surprise you most is seeing everyone fighting over those odd-shaped chunks of stale bread.

18 thoughts on “Cottage Panzanella

  1. Colette, absolutely wonderful looking Panzanella – so very nice that you enjoy this recipe so much that you have made it many times since coming across it in the River Cottage cookbook!
    Hope all is well and you and your family are enjoying summer time to the fullest!
    Thank you also for participating in the Cottage Cooking Club!


  2. I grew up in an Italian-American family and this was a favorite dish to make in the summer. We were never allowed to waste bread… my grandmother said it was a sin. Your's looks gorgeous.


  3. Thanks to you, Andrea, I'm exploring new recipes and really enjoying it.
    Thanks so much for setting up the Cottage Cooking Club.
    Hope you and your family had a wonderful weekend. Wishing you a lovely week ahead. xoxo


  4. It looks lovely! I like the way you added your own touch to the salad. It looks like it was a great way to use summer vegetables, as well as help you with leftover bread.


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