Panzanella with Meatballs

This is a new invention, and, if I may say so, a completely fabulous one. Panzanella is an Italian tomato salad, which I’ve adapted with some tasty trimmings, but don’t let the word ‘salad’ put you off – this is the Mediterranean in a bowl; fresh, zingy, bursting with flavour. This dish combines sweet cherry tomatoes and roasted peppers, crispy ciabatta toasted in garlicky oil and rich sausage meatballs (although for any veggie readers, you can leave out the meatballs and it’ll still be delicious). Try it once and you’ll love it.

Four sausages
Half a ciabatta loaf
A punnet of cherry tomatoes
Three or four roasted red peppers
A good handful of fresh basil
A sprinkle of dried oregano
Half a tablespoon of capers
A clove of garlic
Red wine vinegar
Olive oil
Salt, black pepper and sugar

Serves 2 (and trust me, you won’t have any left over).

First of all, unzip the sausage skins and peel them off to leave just the meat inside. Sausage meat is really fantastic for making meatballs – it’s fatty enough to stop the meat drying up in the pan, and already contains loads of flavour. Shape it into balls between your palms (don’t forget to scrub your hands first) and pop them all into a griddle or frying pan. Chop up the garlic clove and add this along with a good splash of olive oil and a sprinkle of oregano, then put the pan on a medium heat and fry the meatballs until they’re golden-brown and the garlic looks like it’s in danger of burning. Remove from the pan, being very careful to leave as much of the juice behind as possible – this is packed with flavour and perfect for frying the croutons. Make sure you also remove the garlic pieces, otherwise they will burn when you fry the croutons in the same pan.

To make the croutons, tear the bread into rough chunks with your fingers (this recipe is all about being spontaneous and slapdash – don’t try and get it too perfect), then stir them through the juices in the pan and turn the heat up to high. Keep stirring, as the bread will fry quickly and you want it to crisp up, but not burn. Once the croutons are done, remove to a plate.

Slice up the cherry tomatoes and scoop out the seeds (so as not to make the final salad too soggy). Pop them into a bowl. Next, tear up the roasted peppers and stir these in too. You can either buy these peppers in a jar from the supermarket, or if you fancy making the effort, you can roast your own – just buy fresh red peppers and stick them under the grill on a high heat, turning every now and then until the skin is completely blackened and peels off easily. Add a good sprinkle of salt, black pepper and sugar to the bowl, plus a slug of red wine vinegar and olive oil, and tear in the fresh basil leaves. Finally, tip in the garlic croutons and meatballs, and mix well. Serve up a huge bowlful straightaway, before the croutons get soggy, and wash it down with a glass of red wine – a taste of sunshine even on the darkest winter evening.