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.
Inspired by River Cottage Veg
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.