Summer panzanella

Summer storms. After the fierce heat and humidity of the day, the dark clouds roll in, lightning flashes across the sky, and the heavens unleash their load. These storms are typical for the sub-tropical climate of Brisbane where I grew up, but not so much for Sydney.  However, over the past couple of weeks, after a burst of sun and heat in the morning, these powerful thunderstorms have been rumbling across Sydney.

Macquarie Lighthouse

Storm coming across by the Macquarie Lighthouse, near Watsons Bay

I used to be terrified of the storms when I was younger. I would hide under the bed as the lightning flashed across the pitch black daylight sky, and the thunder crashed, sometimes shaking the house.  Now I love these storms: such a release from the humidity of the day, and a spectacle in the sky.

Pauline admiring the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Pauline admiring the Sydney Harbour Bridge

My friend Pauline was back in Sydney.  In her busy schedule, she had only allocated 24 hours to see the sights of Sydney, after declaring she much preferred  Melbourne (having seen nothing of the city but the airport and train station).  With Albertine, we set out to show her that Sydney is pretty special.  The day started off beautiful and sunny, and we made our way into Circular Quay to see that white building…

Opera House

The Opera House in the sun, about 15 minutes before the storm hit

We then jumped onto a ferry, sat up top in the glaring sun, and cruised over to Watsons Bay and The Gap (the mouth of the Sydney harbour).  I saw the dark clouds gathering but hoped we would make it before the storm.  Alas, it was not to be, and the skies opened up as we clambered to get down below out of the rain.

Sydney

Sydney city through the rain

The Gap

The Gap, Sydney Harbour

The storm was over in 20 minutes.  We ate some takeaway fish and chips on a park bench, and then wandered over to the Gap to admire the view, before heading down the coastal walk towards Bondi Beach. Yes, a busy day, but we had to pack it all in.

Pauline and Albertine

Pauline and Albertine

View

View back over Sydney from Watsons Bay

More storms

More storms

But we were not done with the storm.  It rolled in through to Bondi, showcasing dramatic skylines and ensuring that there would be no swim or continuation of the walk to Bronte beach today.  Instead, we sampled a couple of the local bars and did however (I think) convince Pauline that Sydney is the more beautiful city…

Bondi Pavilion

Bondi Pavilion

The humid weather calls for light summery meals, and fruity flavours.  Grilled peaches and creamy Persian feta are the star of this salad, which is an “Australian summer” take on the Tuscan classic panzanella.  Use a good quality (bakery) loaf of rye sourdough to complement the summery flavours and the sharpness of the balsamic vinaigrette and tomato juices.  There are some great, flavoursome tomatoes around at the moment, so get some good quality ones.  Some ribbons of zucchini, kernels of corn, zing of mint and handful of spinach provide non-traditional but wholesome additions.  Instead of a grill pan, the peaches and zucchini can be done on the BBQ, making it the perfect outdoor summer meal.  This salad serves 4-6 adults.

Panzanella

Panzanella

Ingredients

  • 2 thick pieces of stale rye sourdough bread
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1.5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 250g cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 large zucchinis (courgette), sliced lengthways into 0.5cm ribbons
  • 3 peaches, destoned and halved
  • 70g baby spinach leaves (about 3 large handfuls)
  • 20g fresh mint, picked (about 3 mint springs)
  • 2 cobs of corn, cooked with corn kernels cut off
  • 100g Persian marinated feta
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil, for cooking
  • A handful of toasted pine nuts, for serving

Method

  1. Tear the bread into bite sized pieces and warm gently over medium heat in a dry frypan for 2-3 to further dry it out – do not toast the bread or let it get too warm.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. Make the salad dressing by pounding the garlic with the side of a knife and half a teaspoon of salt until it forms a paste.  Stir in the olive oil and vinegar and mix well.  Season with salt and pepper.   Add the diced tomatoes (with juices) to the dressing, sprinkle over a pinch of salt and set aside to marinate for 30 minutes.
  3. While the tomatoes are marinating, heat a grill pan (or BBQ) over medium-high heat with some olive oil and lightly grill the zucchini ribbons for 1-2 minutes each side.  They do not need to be completely cooked, but should have grill marks and  a slight crunch.
  4. When the zucchini is finished, brush some oil and balsamic vinegar from the marinating tomatoes over the peach halves.  Grill the peach halves, flesh side down, in the grill pan (or BBQ) for 2-3 minutes on each side, until they have grill marks and are warm through.  Cut each peach half into 4 quarters.
  5. A few minutes before you are ready to serve, add the bread to the marinating tomatoes and stir through.  Set aside for 5 minutes.
  6. Assemble the baby spinach leaves and fresh mint in a large salad bowl or platter, add the zucchini, corn, tomatoes and bread mixture (with dressing) and stir.  Add the grilled peaches, feta and sprinkle over some pine nuts to serve.
Summer panzanella thumbnail image Grilled peaches, zucchini, corn and marinated feta complement this classic tomato and stale bread salad 30min

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