Panzanella - Tuscan Bread Salad

A summer staple in Central Italy is the Tuscan bread salad Panzanella, a classic example of cucina povera (peasant cooking), transforming stale bread into a flavorful dish with fresh tomatoes, basil & anchovies.

Tuscan Bread Salad

3 bell peppers, grilled, peeled, seeds removed cut into strips
500 gr or 1 lb loaf of good quality stale bread
2 lbs or 1 kilo of ripe cherry tomatoes, (small sized) halved or quartered
6-8 anchovy filets
1 small handful of capers, washed & drained
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 cucumber, thinly sliced
1 celery heart, thinly sliced
large handful of fresh basil leaves, torn
couple cloves of garlic, peeled
red wine wine vinegar
good quality extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper

In a colander place tomatoes and sprinkle with a generous spoonful of salt. Toss the tomatoes a bit. Put a plate or another flat object on top of the tomatoes then a heavy jar or container ontop of the plate to allow them to be pressed & drained.

In a bowl place the garlic cloves, anchovy filets & capers. Now place the colander into the bowl, allowing the tomato juices to drip onto the garlic, anchovies & capers. Allow this to sit for 20 minutes of so.

Meanwhile, in another bowl combine your onion, celery heart, grilled peppers & cucumber. Once the tomatoes have had a chance to sit, add the tomatoes to these vegetables and give it a toss.
For the dressing, use the bowl with the anchovies, tomato juice, etc. - remove the anchovies & garlic, chop the garlic & return to the bowl with the tomato juice. Add 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and about 10-12 good extra virgin olive oil. Stir well. Add a little salt & a good crack of fresh black pepper. Toss this dressing with the tomatoes & vegetables. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or so while you tear up your bread.

Remove the innards of the bread, tearing it into small pieces (leaving the hard crust). Add a about 2 handful of torn bread as well as 3/4 of your basil leaves to the salad. Stir and adjust the seasoning giving the bread time to soak up the juices. If after 10 minutes it looks a little watery, add another handful of the torn bread.

To serve: Adjust your seasonings. Place in a big bowl garnish with the remainder of your basil leaves and the filets of anchovies. Give a good drizzle of olive oil atop before it goes to the table.

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