The best thing about buying fruit and veg in Peckham is that everything is always properly ripe; granted it’s often a bit too so, but since all the shops on Rye Lane sell essentially the same things anyway, it’s just a case of finding the best stuff on the day.
As I was walking past Khan’s the other day I got a waft of ripe tomato scent, something which does not happen very often, let’s face it, unless you’re blessed with a greenhouse or a holiday to Puglia; a tomato at its peak is a wonderful thing. Goodness’ knows where they’d been imported from but frankly, I couldn’t care less. I had half a loaf of excellent E5 Bakehouse sourdough going stale in my kitchen and all I could think of was panzanella.
This is one of my favourite salads but I know that many people don’t dig it, thinking that the bread will surely turn to mush once dressed. Not in a good panzanella. The key is to make sure the bread is about 3 days old and cut into large chunks. The skill then is in adding just the right amount of dressing so that the bread is moistened but never sodden. Think of the joy of mopping up plate juices with a crust and you’ll get the idea of panzanella.
Most recipes recommend dressing the salad, then leaving it overnight before eating. I disagree. Leave it for half an hour to an hour and it’s perfect. The next day it’s passable but past its best, the day after that you’re into mush territory…
Panzanella (serves 4 people)
The quantities here are approximate. I mean, it’s a salad.
15-20 very ripe cherry tomatoes, halved (or larger tomatoes, chopped roughly)
2 of those small cucumbers (or 1 large normal one) de-seeded and sliced
Half a small red onion, thinly sliced
Handful green beans, just cooked then cooled under cold water and cut into inch long pieces
Half a small loaf of stale sourdough bread, cut into large chunks
Small handful capers, rinsed
Small handful basil leaves, torn
For the dressing
1.5 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Mix the bread with the vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Mix really well. Mix together the dressing ingredients then add about half to the bowl. Mix really well again and see if you want more dressing. I used all of the dressing in the end. The bread should be moist but not wet and should keep its structure.
Leave for about half an hour to an hour before eating at room temperature.