Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Roasted Panzanella with Lemon and Caper Dressing - almost too good to be true!

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This week has been almost too good to be true. According to my email, I am the beneficiary of several generous inheritances – mostly from people I’ve never heard of in Nigeria and South America.
Some random investor in China is prepared to lend me buckets of cash with no collateral required. Meanwhile, though I cannot for the life of me remember buying a ticket, it appears I have also won the Italian state lottery this week, so I won’t need to take Mr Wong up on his generous offer.
I am feeling quite overwhelmed by these riches that are – apparently – coming my way. Don't worry, I’m not going to lose the run of myself. Until the cash actually arrives, I will continue to live a simple life.
With that in mind, I have stoked up a hunger for simple, peasant food. Panzanella springs to mind. It is a thrifty Italian salad mainly of tomato, and yesterday’s bread. I’ve added roasted vegetables for punchier flavour and a more substantial dish. The dressing is inspired by my caper-hating sister-in-law, Rosie, who recently made the most incredibly delicious caper-laced, lemony tapenade.
To serve 4 as a main, or 6 – 8 as a side you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 180

For the roasted vegetables
1 red onion, peeled, leaving the root intact
1 large red pepper, cut into large pieces
200g courgettes, cut into 2cm cubes
400g fresh tomatoes (a variety of different types if possible) cut into large chunks
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

1                    First cut the red onion into 8 wedges, making sure each wedge gets a share of the root (this helps keep the onion pieces whole during cooking).
2                    Mix gently with the rest of the ingredients until coated in olive oil. Transfer to a shallow baking tray, spreading the vegetables out as much as possible so that they roast evenly. Roast in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes or until they start to blacken at the edges. Leave to cool in the baking tray. While the vegetables are cooking, make the croutons

For the croutons
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
¼ teaspoon Herbes de Provence (or dried basil)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
125g white country bread, ciabatta or baguette, cut into bite-sized cubes 

3                    Mix the first four ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl. Add the cubes of bread and turning them in the garlicky oil until it has been absorbed and the cubes are coated evenly.
4                    Transfer to a shallow baking tray and bake in the pre-heated oven for 5 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Turn the croutons over and replace in the oven for a further 2 minutes. (Set a timer as they go from golden to charcoal in no time). Leave to cool on the baking tray. 
Simple ingredients, magical food...
For the lemon and caper dressing
4 tablespoons sunflower oil (or other light flavourless oil)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (if you don’t have fresh juice, use white wine vinegar instead)
1 heaped teaspoon capers, rinsed to remove any vinegar or salt, then very finely chopped
½ clove garlic, crushed
¼ teaspoon salt
5                    Place all the dressing ingredients in my Super Salad Shaker (a.k.a. a jam jar with a lid), seal tightly and shake until combined. Couldn’t be simpler.
Seal tightly to avoid dressing the kitchen and self in delicious lemony dressing...

To assemble the salad...
While the vegetables and croutons are cooling you will need...
200g fresh tomatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks
150g cucumber, skin on, cut into bite-sized chunks
12 fat black olives, stones removed
Fresh basil 

6                    Place the tomatoes, cucumber and olives in a large serving bowl or platter.
7                    When the roasted vegetables and croutons have cooled, add them to the serving dish along with approximately 12 basil leaves and spoon most of the dressing over, turning the contents of the dish gently to coat them evenly with the dressing. Cover and leave in a cool place (but not the fridge unless you want woolly-textured tomatoes) for at least 30 minutes for the flavours to meld (alchemy at work!) or up to 12 hours. 

I feel a picnic coming on...
Taste-tester verdict:
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