One thing I've found since becoming a baker (in-training, that is) is that I'm often on the look-out for new ways of using up old bread. Toast is, of course, the most obvious option, and we're all pretty familiar with breadcrumbs, French toast and B&B pudding when there's a reasonable chunk of loaf still to get through.
But there's more than just crumbs and eggy bread when it comes to salvaging those last few slices as the wonderful Tartine Bread happily attests, having dedicated an entire chapter to the subject. And although this sopping of a few dry old slices in custard (or use in crumbs, dips, soups...) may seem unnecessarily frugal it's always a shame letting a good loaf go to waste, especially when you've seen the passion and effort that has gone in to bringing it to your table.
Come summer one of my favourite lazy meals is panzanella, a simple Tuscan salad of juicy tomatoes and crusty bread seasoned with little more than a few splashes of vinegar and olive oil, a light waft of garlic and a good scattering of basil. This salad, however, comes to nothing if the tomatoes used aren't the ripest of ripe and, since we're still enjoying the last weeks of spring it hasn't yet registered on my possible to-do list when I've had bread to spare.
That was until I came across Heidi Swanson's sweet version in her book, Super Natural Every Day. Curious at the idea I was keen to give it a crack using our delicious spelt and honey sourdough, substituting raspberries for strawberries - both roasted and fresh - and throwing in a handful of roasted hazelnuts and cubes of bitter chocolate jelly just for good measure.
The result? One of the most delicious and fun indulgences I've come across in a while. A beautiful combination of textures every mouthful is different, and the traditional combination of hazelnut, chocolate and strawberry does not fail to please. Each part alone is a keeper; from the moreish crispy croutons to the jam-like roasted strawberries and indulgent chocolate jelly. But throw them all together and, well, there's nothing quite like salad for dessert...
SWEET PANZANELLA (Inspired by a Heidi Swanson recipe in her book, Super Natural Every Day)
- 200 g day-old bread, cut into 1-cm dice
- 40 g butter
- 2 Tbsp dark brown sugar
- ¼ salt
- Bitter chocolate jelly (see below), cut into 1-cm cubes
- Fresh strawberries, halved or quartered
- Roasted strawberries (see below)
- Roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
Combine the butter, sugar and salt in a large saucepan and stir over medium heat until the butter has melted and the sugar dissolved. Remove from heat, add the cubes of bread and toss for a few minutes until fully coated. Spread onto a tray lined with baking paper and arrange in a single layer, then toast in an oven preheated to 180°C for around 15 minutes, tossing every five minutes or so to ensure even toasting. Once lightly golden remove from the oven and allow to cool (the cubes will crisp up further as they cool).
To serve, toss together the caramelised croutons, fresh and roasted strawberries, hazelnuts and bitter chocolate jelly, adding as much or as little of each, as you wish. Serve immediately.
For the roasted strawberries...
Hull and halve a punnet of strawberries then toss together with 2 Tbsp maple syrup, 1 Tbsp olive oil and a pinch of salt. Arrange in a single layer on a lined baking sheet and roast for around 40 minutes in an oven preheated to 180°C, until the fruit is soft and just beginning to darken around the edges (watch carefully, as you don't want them to burn). Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool, tossing with a splash of balsamic vinegar or port if you wish.
For the bitter chocolate jelly...
Cover two leaves of titanium strength gelatine with cold water and leave for five minutes, to soften. Meanwhile, combine 80 g sugar, 25 g brandy and 150 g water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add 150 g finely chopped dark chocolate and stir over a low heat for a few minutes, until smooth. Squeeze the excess water from the gelatine sheets, add them to the chocolate mixture and stir to dissolve. Pour into a loaf tin lined with cling film and refrigerate for 3-4 hours, until set.