Picnics? Again? Can’t we just go to a restaurant?
This scandalous remark was tantamount to declaring the end of our friendship. Even my four year old students understand that summer means pique-nique. They are so happy about our virtual picnics that they try to eat the flashcards.
No cardboard cakes at my idea of a picnic. Nor just crisps and beer. A picnic is a delicate balance – you need some bread and cheese, of course, as well as a vegetable, some fruit and something luxurious. The most recent one was capped by wine-dark cherries dragged through the puddle of chocolate that had melted in the evening heat. Though it might sound sophisticated, we ended up spitting the pips into the Seine, competing for the furthest distance. Our picnic-adjacent neighbours gave us a disgusted look and moved. We returned home barefoot, grubby, happy to withstand the glares on the metro.
So the food is not really the point. Just the underpinnings. Panzanella is low key – just plump tomatoes, stale bread and highlights of basil. But somehow the bread absorbs the tomato juice, the olive oil and a hint of onion and binds it all together. Pan-zan-ella. The word itself sounds like it should mean “bread salad wearing a pretty skirt”.
serves a crowd
1 kg ripe tomatoes
1 large baguette tradition, preferably a day old
1 red onion
1 bunch radishes
liberal amounts of olive oil
a splash of balsamic vinegar
several leaves of basil
Cut the tomatoes into large chunks and dice the onions. Toss with oil and vinegar, violently enough to release the juice from the tomatoes. Add the bread ripped into crouton-sized pieces (the same as the tomatoes) the basil, torn up, and some salt. Toss it all together and taste, adjust seasoning if necessary.
Leave for about an hour so that the bread absorbs the dressing without becoming too soggy.
Eat straight from the bowl.