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Panzanella (Italian Bread Salad) With Homegrown To...

“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.”
Lewis Grizzard

We are up to our ears in tomatoes and we love it!

At the start of April we bought tomato seedlings in the hopes we would have the pleasure of a few homegrown tomatoes over the summer. Last year’s efforts were a bit grim so our expectations were not high. I am delighted to report that this has been the best tomato harvest we have ever had in the 3 years of growing our own.

Panzanella is a wonderful way to use up stale bread and hi-light the beautiful flavour of fresh tomatoes – preferably picked straight off the vine! We have a fantastic selection of tomatoes including Roma, Citrina, Sungold and Green Zebra. Nothing hits the spot like a freshly made salad full of Mediterranean flavours and tomatoes you have grown yourself.

Normally panzanella uses stale bread but if you don’t have any on hand you can always use fresh. Just cut it into bite-sized chunks and place on a baking tray in a low temperature oven. You don’t want to toast the bread – just dry it out a little.

Here is my recipe for summer in a bowl.

Luna Raye’s Panzanella or Italian Bread Salad
(Serves 2-3)

Ingredients

3 cups of stale bread (I used a baguette)

A generous handful of tomatoes halved (approx ¾ of a cup) Use a mixture of tomatoes if you can (I used Citrina, Roma and Sungold)

1 small red pepper diced

¼ Spanish onion finely sliced

3 cloves of garlic (I am a garlicoholic so use fewer cloves if you prefer)

1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil

3-4 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar

Handful of basil leaves roughly torn

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Add the bread chunks to a large bowl

In a separate bowl add the tomatoes red pepper, onion, garlic, pinch of salt, about ½ the basil and mix well

Add the tomato mixture to the bread chunks and toss so everything is gently mixed

Drizzle the olive oil and balsamic mixture over the top and add a touch more salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper

Cover and leave for 45 minutes to an hour (you can put it in the fridge but I left mine on the counter top – I find the flavours come out better when it is a little warm)

Just before you serve add the remaining basil and toss everything again. Check to make sure you are happy with the seasoning

The bread should have soaked up all the oil, vinegar and tomato juices so it should be moist but not soggy

Serve up and Enjoy!

Panzanella

Focaccia Bread With Tomato, Basil, Avocado and Moz...

The other day the urge to bake struck again. This time I wanted to make some focaccia bread to have alongside a Jamie Oliver recipe for Chicken with Basil and Sweet Tomatoes. I thought it would be just the thing to mop up any flavourful juices (it was!).

I have baked focaccia bread before and it is relatively simple to make. The recipe I have used in the past calls for a bit more seasoning in the mixture and I have always enjoyed adding some extra toppings to it; olives, sundried tomatoes and caramelized onions being among my favourites. Here is the recipe courtesy of Terri McCarrell and All Recipes that I have used many times before.

Since the Jamie Oliver recipe had so many wonderful flavours going on, I decided to make a simpler focaccia (Focaccia alla Ligure) and garnish it with some sea salt. I sourced a different recipe for this bread from the brilliant site Rustico Cooking and although it turned out very well there was cause for concern. I activated the yeast according to the packet instructions but it called for slightly more water than the recipe needed. The result was very sticky dough. I kept adding a bit more flour but honestly I think I could have added the whole bag. So I left it to rise and waited to see what would happen.

What happened was that it rose successfully and I had twice as much of the sticky dough as before! I somehow managed to get it in the pan where it was left to rise for a further 45 minutes. (cat lovers may appreciate this – but at the precise moment my hands were completely and hopelessly covered in goo, Nutmeg decided she ‘wanted’ things. Water, food, cuddles, specially designed tents made from my collection of sarongs that I drape over cushions for her– you name it she wanted it. Patience is not her strong point and I got in trouble for making her wait! By the way ALL her food and water bowls had been cleaned and replenished before I started making the bread – she just enjoys being cheeky!)

Anyway I wasn’t able to ‘dimple’ the top of the bread because it was just too sticky. It actually didn’t look that bad and when it came out of the oven it looked, smelled and tasted fantastic! Although I had made it in anticipation of my chicken dish I couldn’t resist having a slice or two for lunch. I was in a Mediterranean frame of mind and so I decided on a simple open faced sandwich with tomato, basil, avocado and mozzarella.

It was simple, delicious and healthy. It was raining outside (finally some much needed rain!) so I sat indoors by the window and ate my lunch – it was like I had my very own plate of sunshine. These simple beautiful flavours just can’t help but put you in a good mood. It was just what I needed on a rainy Wednesday afternoon!

Luna Raye’s Recipe for Focaccia with Tomato, Basil, Avocado and Mozzarella

Ingredients

Focaccia bread, large piece sliced lengthways. (You can use store bought but if you decide to make your own even better! Try either recipe I have mentioned above – they are both delicious!)

Drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil.

1large vine tomato sliced

½ avocado sliced

5-6 good sized slices of buffalo mozzarella

Handful of basil leaves, roughly torn.

Salt and Pepper to taste.

Directions

If you’ve made your own bread, allow it to cool slightly on a wire rack, about 20 – 30 minutes.
Once cooled cut a generous sized piece and then slice that in half lengthways.

Brush lightly with some extra virgin olive oil and place under a medium grill.

As the bread starts to brown slightly (about 5 minutes) add the slices of mozzarella and place back under the grill.

While the mozzarella begins to melt slice the tomato and avocado.

Once the cheese has melted (about 3-5 minutes, but keep an eye on it) take the focaccia bread out and put it on a plate.

Add the sliced tomato and avocado and season with salt and pepper.

Tear the basil leaves and scatter them over top.

You can finish with an extra drizzle of olive oil if you choose.

It’s best to use a knife and fork as it’s a messy one to eat – but often the messiest food is the tastiest.

Enjoy!

Focaccia with Tomato, Basil, Avocado and Mozzarella