Well the pavlova turned out awesomely though I do say so myself. It didn’t go chewy in the middle like my mum’s but was really light and marshmallowy so I’m half way there; I’ll ask for her tips on chewyness at my next attempt. I pimped some of the berries with edible silver spray too just for a bit of extra Jubilee bling and well, as you can see, the result was IMMENSE!
Anyway it got polished off along with Ruby’s chocolate cake by the villagers once the pig roast had well and truly done itself justice. God, the crackling was outrageous – it just exploded into airy, crunchy, porky heaven in your mouth. Totally lush.
We were asked to take salads and in my parallel life I’m an Italian ‘mamma’, spending my days in my vegetable garden overgrowing with mediterranean plants, burnt and freckled shoulders exposed in a patterned ‘old lady’ sundress that loosely disguises my happy, fat body. I cook and peel and chop all day long at my big battered old wooden table in my courtyard surrounded by rose bushes and olive trees. The air is warm and heavy with the scent of wild garlic and fennel and figs, and there are piglets running around the yard. I make my own olive oil and tend to my chickens. And for lunch my friends and I sit in the garden beneath the vines feasting on home-grown vegetables and milky, fresh buffalo mozzarella washed down with crisp, cold local wine, smiling, laughing and talking 19 to the dozen about nothing in particular…
Back to this life and I’m about to work my nuts off for the next few weeks so I treated myself to a little fantasy and made one of my favourite salads from my other life; Panzanella.
This encompasses everything I love about food, in fact it is a perfect, complete dish. Sweet, salty, piquant, rich, acidic, chewy, crunchy, soft and sharp. Silky, sweet peppers, meaty anchovies, punchy little capers, crisp and savoury celery, lush juicy tomatoes, loads of pungent basil, smoky toasted sourdough and 2 wonderful dressings with herbs, garlic and vinegar.
This is my version and because I’m a glutton it gets 2 sauces. You could do one or the other or neither, just drench everything in a simple vinaigrette of red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil and it will still be amazing. This looks like a lot of ingredients but there aren’t really as some are store cupboard and lots appear in all 3 parts.
Ingredients (serves between 4 and 10 depending!):
For the salad:
- 3 pointy sweet red romano peppers
- 8 or so very ripe vine tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 heart of celery with lots of leaves
- 2 tbsp baby capers, rinsed
- 2 large handfuls of basil leaves
- about 20 white anchovy fillets in olive oil
- half a loaf of 2-3 day old white sourdough bread
- about a 3-inch piece of cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced on the angle
- a quarter of a small red onion, very finely sliced
- 1 or 2 red chillies, finely chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled
For the salsa verde:
- 2 large handfuls of fresh mint leaves
- 1 handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1 handful of fresh basil leaves
- 1 heaped teaspoon of Dijon mustard
- 2 or 3 brown anchovy fillets
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 1 dessert spoonful of baby capers, rinsed
- splash of good red wine vinegar
- extra virgin olive oil
For the tomato dressing:
- half a pointy sweet red romano pepper
- 2 very ripe vine tomatoes, halved
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 red chilli, halved lengthways
- 50 ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 30 ml good red wine vinegar
- pinch of sugar
Firstly, if you’re making the tomato dressing then turn the oven on low to 140 oC. This needs to be done an hour before everything else. Place the pepper, tomatoes, garlic cloves and chilli onto a small roasting tray and drizzle with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for about 45-60 minutes until turning golden and starting to dehydrate. Place the vegetables in a food-processor and blitz to a pulp with a little olive oil. Pass through a fine sieve, pressing all the juice through, then loosen the mixture with a tablespoon or so of vinegar, a pinch of sugar and salt and pepper. Taste and add a little more vinegar or oil until you have a punchy, acidic, rich sauce.
Now for the salad. Heat the barbecue until it’s very hot then grill the peppers whole until they are pretty black all over. Wrap with clingfilm on a plate and leave to cool a bit. After a while peel the skins off – they will come away easily – then remove the stalks and seeds and slice the peppers across into 2cm strips. While the barbie is still hot cut 3 fat slices from the sourdough (an inch thick) and grill until charred on both sides, then cut the garlic clove in half and wipe the cut side gently over both sides of each slice of bread.
Remove and reserve all the leaves from the celery then wash about 3 stalks from the heart and slice on the angle into chunky pieces. Place in a large bowl with the leaves. Add to this the roasted peppers, tomatoes, capers, basil, anchovies, cucumber, onion and chillies.
Tear the sourdough into 2cm ish chunks and add to the bowl of tomato dressing(if making) and toss about, or to the other salad ingredients if not.
To make the salsa verde dressing place the herbs, mustard, anchovies, garlic and capers in a food processor with a glug of olive oil and switch on. With the motor running, slowly add more olive oil until you have the consistency of a loose sauce / thick dressing. Now add a pinch of salt and a good splash of red wine vinegar (about 1 tbsp), blitz again and taste. That should be all that’s required to make the most mouth-watering salsa, but tweak it with a little more mustard, a bit of sugar or salt, or a splash more vinegar depending on your taste buds.
Splosh the salad ingredients with a lug of extra virgin olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar and a generous pinch of sea salt – throw on the sourdough croutons which have by now absorbed lots of the rich tomato sauce, drizzle everything with a couple of tablespoons of salsa verde and give it all a really good tossing.
Arrange on a platter, drizzle with more salsa verde and scatter on a little more basil. Serve at room temperature, close your eyes and arrive in my Italian garden where I am just popping a cork to pour you a drink. Buon Appetito!