Summer was long and carefree. The days would stretch endlessly along with the evening shadows. The intense aroma of basil would permeate the sultry air.
These were the summers of the past, when the school holidays would last for three months, when September would mean back to school. Everything revolved around natural and refreshing ingredients: watermelon, ice cream, tomatoes, cucumbers, mozzarella, prosciutto and melon. Dinners were out in the garden, when the loud chirping of cicadas would give way to the sound of crickets. Mum would make often panzanella or caprese.
The first one is a Tuscan dish of peasant origin, the celebration of stale bread and the best seasonal produce. If you ask anyone here in Tuscany how they make their panzanella, you will have endless versions. Each head a tribunal. They are as many as the tables where we meet for dinner. The basic ingredients are essentially three: stale bread, ripe tomatoes and basil. In addition to these three ingredients plays its role the family tradition, on which everyone is ready to swear, and the pantry availability.
In my personal version the cucumber, sliced thinly, is not to be missed, as the onion, preferably from Certaldo: it has to be mandatory soaked in cold water to lose its pungent character. Tommaso would preferably omit the onion in favour of salted capers and tuna, Claudia instead would prefer not to have cucumbers in her dish, but she has nothing to say about the onion.
Panzanella is a blank canvas on which you can draw with the colours and fragrances which you like the better, versatile as it is the Tuscan bread, plain and inimitable.