Sunday, 5 October 2014

Slumming it in style - panzanella, Italian bread salad

Panzanella, Italian bread salad is one of the stars of cucina povera and a great way to minimize food waste.

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Impoverishment of the middle class is something people world over are struggling at the moment. Yes, that includes us. We're still lucky and have jobs, which is not something to be taken for granted, but not much of our joint income is that disposable. With everything getting more expensive (food especially!) our wallets too are feeling the crunch and trying to figure out how to get the difference between money coming in and money going out to decrease. To be less in the red, anyway. Sure, I'm sure there are theories on how "duck confit isn't necessarily a key ingredient in a healthy, sustainable diet" or how "people are proven to be able to lead meaningful lives even without excessive consumption of octopus" but... luckily I haven't come across any.

But every now and then it's ok to slum it. But there are ways to do it with worldly elegance - just seek inspiration from Italy! They are home to cucina povera, frugal cooking of poor peasants where most is made of absolutely everything. Waste not, want not- mentality at its best.

One of the staples is bread. In Tuscan region a stale bread would get recycled into a salad by tearing to pieces and leaving them to soak up the juices of onion, tomatos, herbs and oil and hey presto - panzanella was born! It's such a great and grateful dish as you can dump just about anything in there. This time it became a final resting place for rest of a country loaf the well-being of which I was so concerned about before our minibreak in Tallinn, some left over tomatos, unused mozzarellas and olives, which, according to the sous chef "always make for a joyous event".  So, feel free to be creative and use any old leftovers you might have lurking n the fridge - grilled veggies for instance are great in this. If cheese isn't your thing, it can just as easily be omitted. 

Dressing was every bit as easy as the salad itself: I just used a generous desilitre of the oil from the sun-dried tomatos (never, ever discard it - it's got so much flavour!) but in case you don't have any, use the recipe listed below.

Home-made roasted peppers (recipe here!) tend to yield sweeter results, but it does take some time away from, say, kissing the sous chef (or watching the new season of Scandal) so store-bought ones are perfectly fine. The liquid they're preserved in is often vinegar- and not oil based, so their flavour is more piquant. You might therefore add a bit more sugar into the dressing. 

This is delicious as is (and only gets better as it waits and soaks  up the juices but also makes for a great side dish for, say, grilled chicken (for which you'll find a great recipe here!). Or for Italian salsiccia - let's face it, a good sausage never made a vegetarian dish any worse, right?

Use any old bread you want, for instance this no-knead-bread is perfect (not that we've ever had any leftovers, mind...)

Serves 2-3, as a side 4-5


1/2 good, rustic country loaf
250 g cherry tomatos
3 large yellow peppers, roasted (or 4-5 pickled kind)
1 smal red onion (or 1/2 of a larger one)
15 black olives
2 mozzarella balls
a couple of hanfduls of basil

Cut the bread into thick slices and them into cubes. If the bread is still fresh, leave the cubes into room temperature (uncovered) or roast them under  a broiler for a couple of minutes - the drier it is the better it soaks of the juices without getting just soggy. Cut the cherry tomatos and olives in half and slice the peppers. Peel and finely slice the onion. Tear mozzarella into chunks of desired size and assemble the salad.

The dressing:

1/2 dl white wine vinegar
1 dl (rosemary) olive oil (recipe here)
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 clove of garlic (or 1/4 tsp granulated kind)
1/2 tsp oregano (dried)
1/2 tsb basil (dried)
1/2 tsp tomato concentrate
(1/2 - 1 tsp sugar)

Combine he ingredients and check the taste. Pour into the salad and let it soak and arinate for at least a couple hours.

Oh, and in case the bread's already gone too hard to be rescued into a salad, just blizz them up and make your own bread crumbs, which you then, in he spirit of cucina povera, can use to substitute bread crumbs in pastas and gratins (like these poor man's mussles)

And if you're looking for more inspiration for vegetarian fiestas, you'll find more recipes here




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