Sunday, 9 June 2013

Panzanella

I run a fairly thrifty kitchen as I hate waste. If I've had meat on the bone, the bones get turned into stock. I cut the mould off cheese and eat the rest (not that cheese is around often enough for the most part to turn mouldy). And stale bread gets turned into breadcrumbs, which I freeze, or croutons for frisée au lardons. I also use it to make panzanella, a traditional, rustic Italian salad that is the very definition of "waste not, want not" - it doesn't just use up stale bread but overripe vegetables too, turning all the ingredients into a juicy, flavoursome salad. For someone who lives alone, it's an ideal way to clear out the fridge and is surprisingly filling, given its simplicity.

What you need:
Stale bread, enough to make a half-bowl of salad
2-3 very ripe tomatoes
Cucumber, about 10cm, cut into chunks
Handful of black olives
Small handful of roughly chopped flatleaf parsley
Half a ripe red pepper, diced or cut into strips
Olive oil
White wine vinegar or the juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper
4-5 anchovies (optional)

What to do:
Tear the bread into bite-sized chunks and put in the bottom of a bowl or soup plate. Roughly chop the tomatoes and tip into the bowl, with all the juice, and add the cucumber, pepper, olives and parsley. Drizzle over some olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice, season, toss well and set aside for at least an hour so that the bread has time to soak up the dressing and tomato juices. Add the anchovies just before eating.

Cook's tips:
Good bread is essential - white sliced simply won't cut it. Sourdough, ciabatta, baguette or some other very crusty, dense loaf is what you need here. If the bread is very hard, soak it briefly - about 5 minutes - in a bowl of water, then drain and squeeze it out if you need to.

The tomatoes are the other core ingredient - well-ripened, even to the point of collapse, they provide the juices to soften the bread. Then it's just a case of using up whatever else you have to hand - a little shredded lettuce or some rocket, a few basil leaves, some capers, thinly sliced red onion... You could even throw in some cooked green beans, a few lumps of mozzarella torn off a ball, chunks of leftover chicken or tuna.

I don't bother to mix up a proper dressing, preferring to judge the quantity by eye. If you need to measure up, you need an oil to acidic ratio of 3:1.