Why stale bread is your secret salad weapon – recipe

<span>Tom Hunt’s panzanella saves stale bread from the food waste bin.</span><span>Photograph: Tom Hunt/The Guardian</span>
Tom Hunt’s panzanella saves stale bread from the food waste bin.Photograph: Tom Hunt/The Guardian

Panzanella is a zero-waste dish from Tuscany and Umbria that’s usually made by soaking stale bread in water to soften it. Here, to increase the flavour, I’ve also used tomato juice to soften the bread further, a trick I picked up from Tito Bergamashi, the former head chef of Petersham Nurseries in London, with whom I worked on launching the banquets at Wilderness festival. I used a stale wholemeal sourdough, but any real bread will do (white and brown sandwich bread, or bread made using the Chorleywood process (a way to make yeasted bread quickly), isn’t so nice served wet, so that’s best saved from the food waste bin by toasting or frying).

Stale bread panzanella

Panzanella just shouts summer, with the juice of proper sun-ripened tomatoes used in the most delicious dressing to soften stale bread, turning an unappealing ingredient into something quite glorious. Traditional panzanella is quite simple and perfect, but it is also quite versatile. If you have any other ingredients that need using up, consider creating your own version by adding them to taste: vegetables such as bell peppers, chopped lettuce, celery, finely sliced carrots, olives, capers; proteins such as anchovies, mozzarella or feta (although that would shift the dish in the direction of a Greek salad) and other herbs such as parsley, mint or thyme are all wonderful additions. I like to give recipes a seasonal twist when I can, so also consider adding other seasonal ingredients such as blanched broad beans, thinly sliced courgettes, radishes, turnips, or chopped strawberries and peaches, both of which have a delicious acidity similar to tomatoes.

Serves 2

300g ripe tomatoes
Sea salt and black pepper
3 slices stale good bread
(about 100g) – I used wholemeal
½ red onion, thinly sliced and soaked in cold water for 15 minutes
1½ tbsp white- or red-wine vinegar
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
8 large leaves basil
, including their stalks

Cut the tomatoes into 3-4cm randomly shaped pieces, season generously with sea salt and put in a colander set over a bowl.

Tear the stale bread into pieces of a similar size to the tomatoes, put these in a bowl and sprinkle over the vinegar and a tablespoon of water. Toss, then leave to rest and soften while the tomatoes relinquish their juices.

After 15 minutes or so, once you have a nice pool of tomato juice, gently whisk in the extra-virgin olive oil and freshly cracked black pepper to taste.

Drain the onions, add to the bread bowl, then tip in the drained tomatoes. Pour the dressing over the top and toss together. Tear in the basil leaves, then finely chop the basil stalks and add those, too. Eat at once or leave to marinade for a few hours.

  • Discover this recipe and many more from your favourite cooks in the new Guardian Feast app, with smart features to make everyday cooking easier and more fun