Avventura Toscana

by convivialist

I must excuse my lack of posts in the past couple of weeks, but it was for good reason, I promise. Tuscany invited me to explore its bounty of food, landscape and, yes, most importantly, party. More specifically, the beautiful wedding of my friends Katharina and Lorenzo, a German/Italian couple who also call Berlin their home.

If you have ever been to Tuscany, I don’t need to go on, because you understand. If you have never been to Tuscany, I probably still don’t need to go on, because you have surely already heard its accolades from smug friends returning from their vacations there. I will suffice it to say that the world travels to its cities and countryside for good reason, and likewise, its cuisine has reached all corners of the world also for good reason.

As you might imagine, an Italian wedding is very food-focused. I expected this. What I did not anticipate was the sheer eating marathon that would occur: three straight days of copious amounts of food and wine. It ranged from the humble unsalted Tuscan bread with speck and what was definitely the largest piece of mozzarella di bufala that I have every seen; to the fresh, seasonal panzanella salad made by the parents of the groom; to zuppa di faro e fagioli, which focuses on the ancient Etruscan grain; to melt-in-your-mouth beef tagliata at a hillside restaurant just outside Lucca. The list goes on, but as I am now back in Germany, these specialties are simply unreachable, so I won’t torture myself with the thoughts any longer.

The food, however, paled in comparison to witnessing the matrimony of my friends, whose open-minded, ecstatic and generous way of living could only bring together to Tuscany the most wonderful group of people from all over the world. The villa outside of Lucca was the stunning site of the party brought together, firstly in support of the future life of the couple, and secondly in appreciation of living in the moment and wholly enjoying a place and its company. To take the title of this journal, it was the ultimate display of conviviality.

The image that will stay with me for years to come is the bride in her perfect white dress, jumping into the swimming pool as the sun began to rise over the hills beyond, officially ending a long night of dancing off all that pasta, prosciutto and pecorino.

The recipe I want to present to you is Panzanella, a traditional Tuscan summer salad made from stale bread and fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and basil leaves. When I ate it at the party the night before the wedding, I actually thought at first that it was couscous. Depending on how hard the bread is, you may have to soak it in water for a few seconds, squeeze it out and pull the bread into little pieces. The type of bread that is used in Tuscany is unsalted and quite crumbly when moistened. If you can’t find this exact bread, any kind of country loaf or sourdough will work fine. The idea is that the bread soaks up all the flavors of the tomatoes and olive oil. I will present here the most basic form of Panzanella, but you can also try to add other ingredients, such as parmesan cheese or capers.

Recipe: Panzanella, Tuscan bread salad

The following will yield 2 large helpings but feel free to double or triple!

A half-loaf of day-old bread (unsalted Tuscan is most authentic)

1 medium cucumber, peeled
and diced

1-2 large or 4 small tomatoes (Roma/San Marzano/plum varieties suggested)

5-10 basil leaves

¼ red onion, sliced thinly

3 Tbsp. olive oil & 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
(or to taste)

salt & pepper

1. Take the day-old bread, and if too hard, lightly moisten it with water. It should be moistened all the way through. If it’s too wet, gently squeeze excess water from the bread with your hands and set aside for a few minutes. It should crumble and not get too soggy.

2. Crumble the bread into a large salad bowl. Depending on how small you make them, you will get a different texture (smaller=more couscous-like).

3. Cut the cucumbers and tomatoes into small pieces and add them to the bowl. Thinly slice a red onion and rip basil leaves. Also add them to the bowl.

4. Add vinegar and olive oil and mix completely and add more to taste. Taste before adding salt and pepper.

5. The salad should ideally be chilled for 30 minutes in the refrigerator before serving.