Thursday, July 11, 2013

Bread salad and fools

I haven't gone mad, honest. There is reason to the title of this post; it's simply the name of the two best things I've made to eat so far this summer.

Pair a bread salad with some barbecued meat, then make a fool for pudding. You'll end up with a perfect summer's evening meal that's delicious, good for you, frugal, and ridiculously easy to make.

These are the things to eat outdoors on one of those rare, balmy summer nights that only seem to crop up a few times a year, those you can't waste for fear of never getting another, those that make you accidentally neck a bottle of wine on a Tuesday for no reason other than that it's sunny and warm and that must be celebrated. You know the sort.

I'm sure I've eaten a bread salad before and enjoyed it, but I can't remember ever making one. What an oversight. This is one of those dishes where a seemingly run-of-the mill set of ingredients combine to make something unexpectedly marvellous.


A few fridge and store cupboard staples, half a loaf of stale bread, mix it all up, leave it for a bit and.... ooh that's good. Remarkably good. Sweet tomatoes, the fresh crunch of cucumber, oil soaked chewy bread, peppery basil. It's more-ish, very more-ish.

I've made two this week, the first a proper panzanella (give or take a couple of ingredients), the classic Tuscan version with basil. The second was a more makeshift affair with olives and parsley in place of the basil. Both were great.

Panzanella (Tuscan bread salad), enough for 2 as a side or 1 as a main dish

Half a loaf of crusty bread, a day or two old
about 6 small ripe tomatoes
about a third of a large cucumber
3 spring onions or half a red onion
a handful of basil leaves
extra virgin olive oil
red wine vinegar
salt and pepper


Makeshift bread salad

Exactly the same as above, but substitute the basil for parsley, the red wine vinegar for white wine vinegar, and add 7 or 8 fat green olives.

Both versions are made in exactly the same way: Cut the bread into 2cm chunks and chop up the vegetables into slightly smaller pieces. Throw the lot in a large bowl and pour in a good splash of oil and vinegar. I'd say about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and one of vinegar. Season with a good grind of pepper and a quick grind of salt. Mix the whole lot up and leave it for a few minutes. Tear the basil leaves up a bit then add them to the bowl. Mix again then taste to check the seasoning. Add more oil/vinegar/salt/pepper as necessary. Leave for another 10 minutes or so then serve.


On to pudding. I'm in love with our native British fruits, which I think are the finest in the world. I'm absolutely sure about this and have waffled on about why on here before. All you lovers of sweaty tasting tropical specimens are wrong.

At this time of year the obvious choice is a ripe, in season berry served unadorned with cream, but that's not really an option when you have a glut of sour, tougher fruit that needs heat to make it palatable. What you need for gooseberries or rhubarb is a fool. In cooler weather a crumble would be the thing, but in the heat it has to be a fool. A bloody lovely great fool of nothing but fruit, cream and sugar.


Gooseberry or rhubarb fool, enough for four

About 250g gooseberries or rhubarb
2 tablespoons or so of sugar
250ml double cream, or creme fraiche also works well

Stew down the fruit in a pan with some sugar. You don't want any bite left to the fruit but you don't want a puree either. Stop when it's half mush and half still discernable berries or pieces. Taste it and add more sugar if you think it needs it. Leave to cool down until it's no warmer than room temperature. Whip the cream until it stands in soft peaks, then stir in the fruit. Spoon into ramekins, glasses or whatever you want to serve it in then put them in the fridge for twenty minutes or so. Serve cold straight from the fridge.