The Musette: my riff on Panzanella and Insalata con l’acqua

Frankly, it’s way too hot at the moment to do much cooking, even for someone who loves it as much as I do. Yesterday evening, I surveyed my bounty: stale bread, sun-ripe organic tomatoes, a wilted bunch of basil and some salad stuff. Initially, I thought of Panzanella, bread and tomato salad, until I remembered I don’t like how the tomatoes make the bread all soggy. So here’s what I made for us instead which is more like an insalata con l’acqua – but not quite! The end result was both refreshing and substantial.

Ingredients (serves 2 as a meal, or 4 as a starter)


  • 4 slices of stale sourdough bread
  • 3 large sun-ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 large cucumber, cubed
  • 2 fat salad onions (scallions), finely sliced
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • handful of salad leaves


  • leaves from a bunch of basil, approx. 3 tbsp., finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp  extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 fat garlic clove, crushed
  • I tbsp Dijon mustard
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


1. Put all the chopped vegetables into a bowl, including all the juices from the tomatoes, and season.

2. Whisk all the ingredients together to make the dressing – I confess to whipping this up in my liquidiser – and pour over the chopped vegetables. Toss well and allow the flavours to mingle for around 20 minutes at room temperature.

3. Toast the bread and place on a bed of green leaves. Pile the vegetables and dressing onto the bread, and serve.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Feel free to use whatever salad vegetables you have in the fridge. Finely diced celery and fennel would go well.

2. A mixture of different types and sizes of tomatoes would also work.

3. You can substitute flat-leaf parsley for the basil or, if you’ve no fresh herbs, add 1/2 tsp dried oregano to the dressing.

4. If I’d had some to hand, I might have added some small black olives and capers to the salad.

5. For a more substantial dish, top with chopped feta or even mozzarella.

6. Rather than toast the bread, make croutons with it and mix into the salad just before serving.

7. Substitute the salad onions with half a finely sliced small red onion, but soak it in the vinegar beforehand to reduce its heat.

8. If you’re particularly fond of garlic, you can rub a cut slice of garlic over the toasted bread.

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