Day 65: Panzanella
inspired by Marcella
Like a lot of people right now I’ve been baking a lot of bread.
I’ve discovered that homemade bread is not only really simple (as long as you have yeast, I’m still trying to master the sourdough loaf) but also tastes so much better than the supermarket equivalent.
The downside is that is doesn’t stay fresh for long. With just myself and Aidan to feed a loaf of shop bought sliced bread might last us a week. A fresh loaf is good for a day. Maybe two if you’re lucky.
I know that sliced bread has preservatives in to make it last longer. But what I realise is that my homemade bread doesn’t stay fresh as long as the supermarket fresh bread.
It seems even the freshly baked in store products are not made up of just the simple ingredients bread needs – flour, yeast, salt and water.
All mass produced bread add extra enzymes to make their bread retain more gas, making it lighter and fluffier, and it will also make it last longer. Chances are theres added sugar too.
As someone who, until very recently, bought all of the bread from a supermarket this makes me think. If we don’t bake bread, and either don’t live near or can’t afford the artisan bakery offerings – are we just doomed to eat what has basically become a processed food?
So I’m not complaining about my bread going stale any more. It is not a failing, it is a sign of it’s simplicity. It’s a freedom from the artificial and the manufactured.
But that does mean I need to find uses for all my stale bread.
I have lots of parcels of breadcrumbs now in my freezer. I try and keep using it for toast until it threatens to break my teeth. Some gets put out for the birds.
However I’ve discovered the best thing to do with stale bread, is to let it act like a sponge and soak up other flavours. Like in a panzanella.
Panzanella is a rustic Italian salad where stale bread is soaked with tomatoes, herbs, vinegar and olive oil. You need to make it a few hours ahead so the bread can soften and take on all the lovely tomato juices. It’s even better the next day.
It’s also on the menu at Marcella, which is the Deptford sister restaurant of Artusi, which I have already mentioned when making my Gurnard with Potato, Tomato, Samphire & Wild Garlic.
The mix of my love for Italian food and my love of South East London means that both restaurants deserve a shout out.
I read a few different recipes for panzanella. Beyond the staple ingredients of stale bread, tomatoes, oil and vinegar it seems like everything else can be changed depending on personal taste, family tradition, or simply what you have available.
In the end I go for a Jamie Oliver recipe. Partly because I like the idea of adding charred pepper and capers (I skip the optional anchovies though) and also because I feel a bit guilty. As someone who owns nine Jamie Oliver cookbooks I have to admit he has influenced me more than any other chef as I have learnt how to cook.
But with research for this blog often taking me to new, or more niche, chefs and recipes I find his books are staying on the shelf. It doesn’t help that’s there really no need for a 15 minute meal right now. What would I do with the rest of the day?
However 15 minutes is all it takes to assemble this salad. I put it all together in the morning, leave it covered on the side (not in the fridge) for the afternoon and by the evening it’s delicious.
I serve it with various bits of cheese and charcuterie from the fridge as a sort of snacking dinner. But it’s amazing with oily fish too. Try it with mackerel, or sardines if you can find them.
As I feed my sourdough starter ready for another try, I start to think about all the stale ends of bread I have to use up in the future weeks and months.
If other stale bread recipes are as good as this panzanella, I’ve got nothing to worry about.