I’ve been spending the last few days of my time in Italy staying with my oldest friend, Catherine, in what is to my mind, the most beautiful house in Tuscany. A stunning farmhouse at the end of a treacherous road where I feel completely at home and happy. I’m incredibly lucky to have my nearest neighbor be one of my closest friends and I always make sure our time here overlaps. I just can’t imagine being here without her. We spent last night at a local festa reminiscing about a slightly more glamorous party that used to be the highlight of every summer but which sadly no longer happens.
Every August, the courtyard of Badia a Coltibuono, a 12th Century monastery outside Gaiole, would be the stage for a concert by students of the famous Academia Chigiana. The classical music was followed by food and drinks in the formal garden while the courtyard was transformed into a disco. Huge ceramic bowls filled with Panzanella and platters of Parma ham, salami and cheese were laid out for the guests to feast on before the dancing began. I decided to recreate the panzanella today and I’m sure the fact that it was so delicious was thanks to every ingredient except the bread coming straight from Catherine’s garden.
4 slices of tuscan bread or good sourdough
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 red pepper, deveined, seeded and sliced into strips
2 large heirloom tomatoes
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1. The bread should be a little stale. If it is not, you can put it in a low oven for 15 minutes to dry out. Then cut into 1″ cubes.
2. Soak the sliced onions in a bowl of water for 10-15 minutes to bring out the sweetness then drain and dry.
3. In a large bowl, mix the red pepper, tomatoes, bread and red onion.
4. Sprinkle the vinegar and then the olive oil all over the salad and mix well with your hands. Add salt, taste and mix again. Tuscan bread is made without salt so I used quite a lot but it depends on your ingredients.
5. Finish by sprinkling with some chopped basil leaves and leave it to sit for at least 10 minutes. The bread will soak up all the juices of the tomatoes and continue to improve.