By Pratiksha Thanki (https://pratikshathanki.wordpress.com/)
So you are in Lucca, a small Italian town near the Ligurian coast, thinking of Luca Brasi from The Godfather and how amazing it is that you have managed to come to this town where you had no idea you will end up until the hotel was booked. There is no reason why you should be there, and that’s the best part of it.
There is a Puccini concert at 6 PM at the church. You reach there at 6:05, and the tickets are still available. Half your friends are not keen on it. You could listen to Puccini any old time on one of those free classic radios you play on the internet. But you will get to breathe the outside Lucca-air only for a few hours, till you leave in the morning that is. This is just a stop on the way after all.
So you are outside on the square where the locals are celebrating some festival since two days. You are at the tail end of it. Three different tents are preparing food, but they are not selling it yet. You don’t understand it at first. You look around, there are signs that a rock concert had just finished before you arrived. Long haired men are winding up on a stage, looking cool and formidable at the same time. There is a sports corner with a tent full of sporting equipment. Kids are playing badminton.
And suddenly people start filling up the square. They line up in front of those three carnival food tents. You line up too. Your friends split up to go check out other tents. You decide to meet at a bench under a tree. You reach the counter, and you realize the food is free. Why? Because it is a state-sponsored food festival. You feel awkward accepting free food, but carry on with your pack anyway. And take it to the bench. Friends have their own loot. There is a baguette sandwich with prosciutto. There is a pasta pack, obviously.
And then there is a salad in your pack. You start on it with your plastic fork. One bite, hmmm. Second bite, this is Delicious. Third bite, hey there are big chunks of bread in it. Bread soaking with olive oil, vinegar, Italian herbs and something else, you guess it must be that Lucca-air you were so fascinated with. There were some shallot pieces, peppers, basil, tomatoes, olives, chunks of feta cheese and something else, that surprise that bread can be turned into something so satisfying and intriguing at the same time.
You have to get home, google Lucca Bread Salad and find out it is called a Panzanella Salad. You keep making it weekly till you get tired of it. Then you feel like sharing it with your friends. And you find a way to do it. There you go:
Panzanella Salad Recipe:
- A hunk of bread, chopped into cubes (preferably a ciabatta, baguette or any whole wheat bread will do)
- 2 big tomatoes
- 1 red onion
- 1 cup chopped peppers (green, yellow, red, orange, any colour you get or all of them)
- ½ cup cheese of your choice (preferably feta cheese or Parmesan)
- salt, pepper, oregano flakes to taste
- A chopped fruit (a peach, an apple, a plum, anything that can be cubed in the same size as the bread, peppers, tomatoes and onions)
- Generous amount of olive oil
- 2-3 tablespoons of Balsamic vinegar or any fruity vinegar you can get your hands on
- Freshly chopped basil leaves
Chop everything preferably in the same size (this is a personal preference), though it can be in any shape or size. Throw in the vegetables, cheese and bread together in a big bowl, drizzle some olive oil on it and mix it well. Now add the salt, pepper, oregano, chopped basil any other Italian herbs or spices of your choice, add balsamic and more olive oil and mix it well. Put the bowl on the side to set for an hour, or just simply dig in right away if you can’t wait. It tastes better after things have settled in.
You can control the amount of oil used in the salad and skip the cheese and that makes it a very healthy thing that gives a good balance of carbs, proteins, vitamins and what not. It can also stay in the fridge for a day or two, you can make it ahead. But don’t keep it lying on a fridge shelf for longer than two days.
Then you think of the Lucca-air and think of how something so non-complicated can make you feel so fancy just because it is called Panzanella and you got hold of it in Lucca.