Summer finally happened in Cambridge this weekend. It seems to have finished today, but I’m glad we made the most of it with a picnic on Sunday. I made a Spanish omelette and this easy and delicious tomato, cucumber and bread salad. Panzanella is a Tuscan salad which works really well as part of a summer lunch, and offers you a great way to use up extra bread you’ve got lying around – it’s traditionally made with stale bread, but any dry, open-textured bread like ciabatta will work very well here. Some recipes include tuna, onions, anchovies and other strong flavours, but when your tomatoes are good, this simpler preparation makes the most of them.
This is absolutely the best time of year for tomato recipes, and the English tomatoes you’ll find in the supermarket at the moment are at their sweetest and ripest. (My own are a bit of a disaster this year; it’s not been hot enough for them to ripen, so I’ve three vines of gorgeous big tomatoes in various exciting shades of vivid green.) This salad makes the most of them by macerating them overnight with salt, lots of olive oil and garlic, herbs and a glug of really, really good vinegar. The juice from the tomatoes leeches out and combines with the other ingredients, penetrating the crisp flesh of the cucumber, and pieces of bread are added just before serving to soak up the rest of the flavourful juices.
To serve six as part of a picnic, you’ll need:
10 large fresh plum tomatoes
½ large cucumber
100g small, mild olives (again, I heartily recommend Waitrose’s Spanish Couchillo olives)
100g Sunblush tomatoes and their oil (or 100g of your own home-made slow-roasted tomatoes)
1 tablespoon chopped oregano
1 tablespoon chopped basil
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
Zest of ½ a lemon
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar
1 large pinch salt
1 pinch sugar
8 turns of the peppermill
½ a ciabatta, torn into pieces
Chop the tomatoes and cucumber roughly into 1cm cubes, and place in a large bowl. (If you’re going to be eating this at a picnic use a Tupperware box so you can transport it easily.) Stir in all the rest of the ingredients except the bread, and taste for seasoning – add some juice from the lemon if you want the salad to be more tart. Put in the fridge and leave, covered, overnight until you are ready to eat. The flavours will meld (there is something magical about what happens when you use this combination of herbs with raw tomatoes) and soften overnight.
Immediately before serving, tear the ciabatta into small pieces and stir it into the salad. This is great with a chilled glass of Prosecco and lots of sunshine.