La Massa Panzanella

Tuscan Bread Salad – original recipe from Beppina, Danny’s Mum:

Traditionally, this was a way of using up yesterday’s bread – it is best made with Tuscan bread – a very coarse white product, but not readily available away from the region.

Instead, you can use a ciabatta.

As with all recipes, there are a number of variants – we like this one and it is genuinely Tuscan and ‘local’.

Roughly slice the bread and dry it in the sun until it is rock hard – this can take some hours – alternatively dry it in a cool oven – the important thing is, it must be hard but not toasted.

Throw it into a bowl of cold water and leave it for maybe 30 seconds – the important thing to do is catch it before it falls apart, but is well soaked.

While it still is in ‘slices’ pick it out and using some force, squeeze the water out and put the squeezed lumps into a bowl.  Quickly deal with all the bread in this way.

Next, get you hands in and ‘crumb’ the bread.

At this stage, you can refrigerate and leave until later for final preparation.

Just before you want to eat:

Chop finely a selection of the following salad vegetables – all should be the freshest and of the best quality you can find:

Tomatoes – take the seeds out (and eat them as I do at preparation time)
Peeled (at least partially) cucumber
onion (I guess of any type you want) – we use the lovely Italian salad onions from Tropea
Lots of shredded basil
Shredded lettuce – whatever type you have
Radish
Clove or two of garlic

The important thing is that the ingredients should be chopped finely and the lettuce and basil shredded.

We would suggest that the pile of chopped salad should equal the bread volume – or maybe a little less – mix them together and season as follows:

Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil (the best quality of course)
Vinegar – we use a white wine vinegar or cider vinerar.

Beppina says you should then eat immediately – I find that it keeps for a little while and in reality, we are all fighting for the ‘fridge leftovers’ the following day.

As a refinement, we sometimes buy a whole round Tuscan loaf, then scoop out the middle leaving a ‘bowl shaped’ crust behind.  Dry both the scooped out bread and the crust bowl as above.  Then, when you have made the panzanella, pile it back into the bread bowl – looks good.  Then, you can be really mean as we are and save the bread bowl for next time –  it keeps for a time or two.