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Panzanella Salad

The reason I love this salad is that it’s simple to make and it consists of some of my favourite ingredients… Fresh buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, capers, red onion – how can theses delicious flavours not create something awe-inspiring together!My mother introduced me to Panzanella salad. It was after one of her European holidays that she came back raving about this simple and delicious salad. The Italian farmer’s wife in Umbria used day old hard crusted bread which she moistened with cold water, then squeezed all the excess moisture out and rubbed it, bit by bit, between the palms of her hands, so that it in the end became irregular shaped shreds of bread.This was left to dry and then used in her Panzanella salad.

I thought I’d share the story of my first taste of buffalo mozzarella, the real thing. When I was living in Dublin, working long night shifts in a French bakery, I lived with a young Italian woman (I thought that was the best way to describe her). She was everything you’d expect an Italian woman to be, confident, matter- of-fact and a lover of food, of course. So every now and again when our busy schedules would coincide and we’d bump into one another (quite literally) in our tiny kitchenette and I would subtly ask her all sorts of questions about authentic Italian cooking.
So, when she heard that I hadn’t ever eaten real buffalo mozzarella (the kind that pulls apart in layers and is good enough to eat on it’s own with only course salt and black pepper) she couldn’t believe it.

Her parents were due to arrive for a visit in the week to follow, so she asked them to bring a mozzarella cheese all the way from Italy! To this day, I am not exactly sure of the long journey it traveled to our little kitchen, but I do know that it involved a train journey and a flight. Sure enough, they arrived proudly with a huge mozzarella ball gently floating in it’s brine, packaged in a polystyrene box! And to say it was the most delicious mozzarella, and that I have since not tasted anything close to the delicate flavour and soft texture of that very cheese, wouldn’t be an exaggeration.

This is my version and is probably a little more modern and not quite so authentic. I make chunky croutons from slightly stale ciabatta which is so addictive! What doesn’t get eaten while making the salad gets used in it, so make double the quantity needed, trust me on this one. Enjoy!

Panzanella Salad

(Makes 4-6 portions)

2 big buffalo mozzarella balls, torn
1 red pepper, roasted, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp capers/caper berries
1 red onion, thinly sliced
300g tomatoes (plum, vine, rosa)
1/3 loaf of crusty, stale bread
1/4 cup good quality olive oil
salt and black pepper
a bunch of basil leaves
6-8 anchovies (optional)
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

Method:

Break the bread into bite sized chunks, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in the oven until golden and crispy.
Toss all the ingredients together, keeping everything chunky.
Make a simply vinaigrette by whisking the red wine vinegar into half of the olive oil. Drizzle this over everything and toss the salad.
Garnish with fresh torn basil leaves and the finely chopped red pepper.

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