End of Summer Panzanella



The best thing about buying fruit and veg in Peckham is that everything is always properly ripe; granted it’s often a bit too so, but since all the shops on Rye Lane sell essentially the same things anyway, it’s just a case of finding the best stuff on the day.

As I was walking past Khan’s the other day I got a waft of ripe tomato scent, something which does not happen very often, let’s face it, unless you’re blessed with a greenhouse or a holiday to Puglia; a tomato at its peak is a wonderful thing. Goodness’ knows where they’d been imported from but frankly, I couldn’t care less. I had half a loaf of excellent E5 Bakehouse sourdough going stale in my kitchen and all I could think of was panzanella.

This is one of my favourite salads but I know that many people don’t dig it, thinking that the bread will surely turn to mush once dressed. Not in a good panzanella. The key is to make sure the bread is about 3 days old and cut into large chunks. The skill then is in adding just the right amount of dressing so that the bread is moistened but never sodden. Think of the joy of mopping up plate juices with a crust and you’ll get the idea of panzanella.

Most recipes recommend dressing the salad, then leaving it overnight before eating. I disagree. Leave it for half an hour to an hour and it’s perfect. The next day it’s passable but past its best, the day after that you’re into mush territory…


(serves 4 people)

The quantities here are approximate. I mean, it’s a salad.

15-20 very ripe cherry tomatoes, halved (or larger tomatoes, chopped roughly)
2 of those small cucumbers (or 1 large normal one) de-seeded and sliced
Half a small red onion, thinly sliced
Handful green beans, just cooked then cooled under cold water and cut into inch long pieces
Half a small loaf of stale sourdough bread, cut into large chunks
Small handful capers, rinsed
Small handful basil leaves, torn

For the dressing

1.5 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Pinch sugar
Salt and pepper

Mix the bread with the vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Mix really well. Mix together the dressing ingredients then add about half to the bowl. Mix really well again and see if you want more dressing. I used all of the dressing in the end. The bread should be moist but not wet and should keep its structure.

Leave for about half an hour to an hour before eating at room temperature.

You Might Also Like


  • Avatar
    Reply Yas September 7, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Heaven. You clearly possess a deep understanding of r-e-f-r-e-s-h-i-n-g.

    However, i was wondering why not add a squeeze of lemon. Is it inauthentic to the recipe in any way?

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen September 7, 2012 at 1:58 pm

      The recipe is quite heavy on acidity, which comes from red wine vinegar. I also add capers. Lemon however is obviously fine – I don’t give a shit about authenticity, personally. Do what you feel like doing!

  • Avatar
    Reply adam and theresa September 8, 2012 at 11:01 am

    I would have to agree with your modifications; a very, very hard bread and leaving only for an hour or so. The key to it is in the texture of the bread which has to be just right. What accompanied this little piece of Italian-on-the-rye? Long way to go to E5 for the bread though..

  • Avatar
    Reply Sally - My Custard Pie September 8, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    Totally agree that nothing….nothing…beats a beautifully ripe tomato.

  • Avatar
    Reply Sue September 9, 2012 at 9:43 am

    I have to disagree about using lemon juice, red vinegar is so much part of this salad. It is truly one of the best things to do with tomatoes, and it save all that fighting for the luscious juices at the bottom of the bowl which in my house can get quite nasty!
    I usually toast the bread in the oven, drizzled with a little olive oil, and add a big handful of chopped parsley too.

  • Avatar
    Reply Noemi September 11, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Hi! Your blog is very nice:)
    I like very much Panzanella… yummy! 🙂

    Have a nice day!!

    An italian food blogger

  • Avatar
    Reply Food Urchin September 11, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. Panzanella looks like a great thing to make and eat but what if your tomatoes are still green and hanging on the vine? What then eh?!

    Fucking tomatoes.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen September 11, 2012 at 6:47 pm

      THEN, Danny, you make a green tomato curry and give the stale bread to the birds like a sensible man.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen September 11, 2012 at 6:48 pm

      Tomatoes though – BASTARDS

  • Avatar
    Reply Becs @ Lay the table September 16, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    Looks beautiful – I’m such a tomato snob!

  • Avatar
    Reply Favourite Table September 17, 2012 at 6:58 am

    Amazing as always. The wine was perfect, the service was perfect. The atmosphere was perfect. The food was perfect. You cannot go wrong here. This place is a gem on Ventura Blvd. You don’t need to go over the hill to Beverly Hills to get this type of quality.

  • Avatar
    Reply Favourite table October 15, 2012 at 7:24 am

    his was absolutely a delicious ways to get in your veggies. I am not a big pepper fan, but I marinated this overnight and the pepper taste wasn’t even there!! I didn’t have the champagne vinegar so used the red wine vinegar instead. I also didn’t have capers so didn’t put them in. I did add chick peas because I thought they would be a good addition and loved them in this. I had a hard time mixing in the dijon mustard so I used a blender which worked great. I took this to church, and it was a hit with the adults. I think the veggies scared away the children, but if they had tried it, they may have been pleasantly surprised!! I will make this again trying other veggies.

  • Avatar
    Reply Maria March 8, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    Lovely recipe and so simple, i added a teaspoon of mustard to the dressing and a splash of lemon at the end. On a hot day, its a great dish.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen March 8, 2013 at 12:58 pm

      Great, glad you liked it!

    Leave a Reply