You say tomato, I say panzanella: the perfect summer salad

Let the sunshine in with this Tuscan treat of ripe plump tomatoes and bread

Warm summer nights are the perfect time to have big bowls of salad for a relaxed dinner. Panzanella is a Tuscan salad, a delicious mixture of ripe plump tomatoes and bread. It is lovely on its own as a light meal and is good alongside a roast chicken for Sunday lunch. I made this recently and served it with freshly fried mackerel and garlic aioli for the seasonal Monday night dinner.

A sourdough baguette is perfect for this dish, as it has just the right ratio of crust and crumb for texture. Any good-quality sourdough will do. The quality of the tomatoes is really important here. As with all simple recipes, start with perfect ingredients and your finished dish will glow.

At this time of year, there are tomatoes galore dripping from vines in polytunnels all over Ireland. There are even tomatoes appearing on outdoor plants, despite heavy rain showers.

Years ago we rented an allotment and reaped the rewards. Those were the days before we discovered Charles Dowding’s revolutionary No Dig gardening method and we were doing it the hard way.

A tangle of cherry tomato vines was heavy with plump, ruby-red jewels and bright yellow tomatoes. It was incredibly satisfying to be able to supply the kitchen with salad leaves, beetroot, carrots, cucumbers and more as the summer progressed.

Having access to such fresh produce really fuels my creativity in the kitchen. Thankfully my dad is much more green-fingered than I have ever been and supplies me with amazing rhubarb, salad leaves and kale. His carrots never stand a chance as various grandchildren whip them from the soil gleefully and eat them in the polytunnel before they grow big enough for him to harvest.

This salad is a great way of celebrating summer’s bounty, with sun-ripened tomatoes, fragrant basil and oregano. I’ve added anchovies as I find they provide a subtle and indistinguishable taste and meaty texture, which is so good with the Dijon mustard. I often add them to a dish and it is never picked up on by those who eat it. If you don’t like fish and are afraid this piscine addition will destroy your salad, I urge you to just try it on a little bit and before you know it you’ll be adding anchovies to everything. If you’re not using the anchovies, make sure you season the dish well with sea salt.


Serves 4

600g day-old sourdough bread
3tbs olive oil
500g ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 roasted red peppers, roughly chopped
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
Large bunch (25g) of basil leaves, torn
Few sprigs of marjoram or oregano leaves, roughly chopped
8 anchovies, in oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
½tsp Dijon mustard
50ml red wine vinegar
100ml olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees or equivalent. Cut the bread into large cubes or break it up into bite-size pieces with your hands. Drizzle with three tablespoons of olive oil and place them in the oven for eight to 10 minutes to dry out. It's not necessary to do this but I think it prevents the salad from getting too soggy.

2. Place the chopped tomatoes, red pepper and onion in a large bowl with the herbs.

3. Mix the crushed garlic, olive oil, mustard and vinegar in a jar. Pour into the tomato mix. Add the anchovies and finally the bread. Ensure everything is mixed properly and leave at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.

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