Instead of serving up the same old salad every time friends come around for a barbeque, surprise them with this simple mango and avocado panzanella
Panzanella is a traditional Tuscan recipe which literally translates to peasant salad.
Like so many recipes from Italy, it makes use of common ingredients that would have been available to even the poorest families, hence the name.
It’s usually based around stale bread, tomatoes and onions. Three ingredients that are always on hand in every Italian kitchen.
At my family’s recent New Year gathering, one of my jobs was to bring along a salad. I didn’t want just any old salad though, I wanted something different, something interesting . . .
I started thinking about what is fresh and in-season here in the tropics in summer.
I started thinking mangoes.
I know they are considered a luxury fruit . . . and here I am using them in a peasant salad . . .
Yes, I do see the irony.
My only defence is that here in North Queensland, mangoes are cheap at this time of year. I bought six, nice-sized Kensington prides for $5 from a roadside stall.
Tropical peasant food, perhaps? Lol
So anyway, I was a bit concerned about the sweetness of the mangoes being out of place in the salad and overpowering the savoury elements, so I picked up some avocados to help balance out the flavours.
In the kitchen, I did a little experimenting to make sure all the different ingredients were going to work together.
Panzanella is dressed in extra virgin olive oil and either red wine or balsamic vinegar. After a taste test, I went with red wine vinegar.
Mango and balsamic worked well together, but it was too sweet and syrupy for a salad.
Dessert yes, panzanella no.
Fresh basil is also part of the traditional recipe and I was a bit sceptical about how it would go with the mangoes, too. Much to my surprise, it was a match.
The spicy, aniseed of the basil combines beautifully with the richness of the Kensington prides.
The big test though, was whether it would be a hit with my family.
To add an extra bit of pressure, our adopted Italian nonna, Loretta, was one of the guests on the evening.
She lives across the road from my parents and, as you would expect from her pedigree, she is a straight-shooter who is passionate about good food.
Italians can be touchy about anyone messing with their time-honoured recipes.
I wasn’t sure if she would be impressed or whether she’d give me a slap upside the head and a lecture on my sacrilegious practices.
Fortunately, everyone loved it.
Having the occasional burst of sweetness from the mangoes throughout the more savoury flavours of the tomatoes, onions, bread and the creaminess of the avocados was delicious.
It seemed like the perfect thing to be eating on a hot, sultry summer night in Far North Queensland.
So did it pass the nonna taste test?
Yep, she went back for seconds!
Here’s the recipe
Mango and avocado panzanella (bread salad)
3 mangoes (diced)
2 avocados (diced)
3 tomatoes (diced)
Half a red onion (sliced)
Half a loaf of ciabatta bread (torn into roughly 2cm round chunks)
Extra virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar
Half a cup of basil leaves
I found it easiest to add about one-third of the mango, avocado, tomato, bread and onion together in a salad bowl, then drizzle with a good lug of olive oil and a similar amount of red wine vinegar and sprinkle with basil leaves.
Repeat for the next third, then again for the final third.
This way you layer the salad and make sure everything is combined without having to toss it.
The reason for this is to protect the softer ingredients from getting all mushy and looking unappealing.
In a traditional panzanella, the bread is soaked in water and then squeezed to remove excess moisture.
I find some people aren’t keen on the texture of this, so I use a reasonably fresh loaf of ciabatta and just let the juices from the ingredients soak into it.
Either way works well.
I also used Greek basil leaves in mine for presentation purposes, but baby sweet basil leaves would also look good.
This salad goes well with barbequed meats, pasta dishes and seafood.
So there you have it.
Give this deliciously simple recipe a go at your next summer barbeque and let me know what you and your guests think of it through the comments field below.
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