Baked Panzanella Nests

There’s a fine line between content and smug.

These crisp and squished tomato bread nests may be the tipping point.

It started with a late Friday afternoon excursion to Borough markets. The sun was out.  At the junction there were crowds spilling out onto the curb, sipping sneaky pints and getting a jump start on the weekend. As luck would have it there’s now a gelato store adjacent to Neal’s Yard which does a nocciola so good it made me cuss quietly.

And then there were these.

End of summer, blushing ripe, heirloom tomatoes, for £1.50 a punnet. I’ll take two, please.

The weekend starts with contemporary dance at Sadler’s Wells  it’ so good it makes me want to skip and stretch (neither of which come naturally).

Saturday morning:  sleep in. The Hungry One ducks out for newspapers and juice. Sun slants through the doors from the new Juliet balcony. Birdy on the stereo. There’s a two day old loaf of foccacia on the bench, slumping slightly.

Panzanella, I think. The Florentine stale bread and tomato salad. Scarlet juices, bread soft, but still with crunch on  the corners. It’s the taste of summer. The texture of thrift. Nothing good to be wasted, everything finds its place and  a time to shine.

But eggs. Eggs are also needed in the morning.  And so these nests were born. Torn bread, sogged with tomato puree so ripe it convinces you it really is a fruit. A little parmesan for depth and to help bind them together. Some olive oil for pepper and shine. It gets pressed into ramekins with little hollows made in the centre and baked for 15 minutes or so, until the edges are crisp and the base has mellowed into itself.

I make a saucepan full of five minute eggs (water, teaspoon of bi carb soda to make the eggs easier to shell, place the eggs in when the water comes to a boil. Boil for five minutes. Remove eggs. Cover with cold water to stop the cooking. Then tap the shells and gently peel. Keep warm in luke warm water. Solid whites, runny yolks).

I unravel some prosciutto. I make a rustic (read messy) salad with the smaller tomatoes and basil from the new plant on the balcony; olive oil, salt flakes, pepper.

We cradle soft eggs in the nests (one for me, three for The Hungry One- I don’t call him that for nothing). We trade sections of the paper. We firm up plans to go to the Mayor’s festival on the Thames for a friend’s birthday. Then for jerk chicken in Brixton.

The next morning it’s been so good, we do it all again.

This time we try the nests without the support of the ramekins. We see if they can hold themselves up. They can.

Eggs, nesting, music, sun, tomatoes, papers, juice, light.

Then a walk. A film (a touch too violent, but I’m a sucker for a broad shouldered man in a cardigan). Dinner. At the end of the day we sit down to try again to muster the courage to get into The Wire. For the first time in four years and eight months, since the morning that splintered everything, we can finally see beyond the ugly grind of criminal justice on the screen and appreciate the stories.

Things feel ok now.

There’s a fine line that divides contentment from smug. It’s one you never know until you’re standing close to it.  It’s a textural thing. Nobody wants just pappy softness, it doesn’t do anyone any good. There always needs to be some gritty toasted edges somewhere on the plate.

If you want to start your own Saturday morning experiments in smug nests I offer you this: it helps if you have good tomatoes. Add some old bread and the satisfaction of thrift. Be sure to toast your nest properly in the oven. It’s ok if the edges scorch a little. The gentle flow of the egg yolk will taste all the better for it.

From there you should have a good breakfast and the knowledge that if a day begins well, there’s a solid chance that good things will follow.


Baked Panzanella Nests

These make a lovely brunch dish. They would be easily produced ahead of time for a crowd and left in the fridge, ready to bake on arrival. Similarly the eggs can be made and rewarmed in luke warm water. I the eggs and the nests with wafts of prosciutto and a tomato basil salad on the side, yet links of sausage, bacon or slices of  avocado and mushrooms would also be fine accompaniments.  With that in mind, these needn’t be constrained to the breakfast table. They would make a cheerful Meatless Monday supper, or a sound lunch for vegetarian friends with a big green salad.

Serves 2, but doubles or triples easily for a crowd.

Two, 1 cup ramekins. Small blender. Optional: baking paper


100 grams of day-old/slightly stale foccacia (or sourdough- you want a bread with a sturdy crust that will crisp)
1 ripe medium/large tomato, blitzed in a blender (you want around 175 ml of tomato puree in total)
1 tbsp olive oil
15 grams of parmesan, grated
Handful of basil leaves

Optional extras: eggs, prosciutto, ripe tomato and basil salad

Here’s how we roll

1. Preheat the oven to 200 C/392 F

2. If you want you nests to stand alone, grease the ramekins then line with greaseproof paper. (I find it easiest to do the sides first, cutting slits in the bottom of the long strip, so it can easily curve around.

After that cut a circle to sit over the bottom.

3. Make sure that the bread is cut/torn into pieces smaller than a playing dice.

Add the grated parmesan.

4. Pour the tomato puree and olive oil over the bread.

5. Mush it all around so the bread soaks up the juices and the parmesan is well mixed.  It will feel pappy.

6. Press the tomato/bread into the ramekins, creating a nest by covering the bottom and building it up the sides. Leave a hollow in the centre and push a basil leave into the well.

7. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the edges are burnished and the bread is a glorious combination of crisp and squish.

8 . Allow to cool for a minute, then carefully remove the nests from the ramekins, pulling off the paper collar around the edge (you can leave the paper on the bottom if you’re feeling nervous).

9. Top the nests with a five minute egg. Serve with prosciutto and a salad of ripe tomatoes and basil leaves.

{ 1 Comment }
  1. The panzanella nests look delicious. I often just serve eggs like this over homemade croutons, but I like the baked nest idea. Glad to see you settling in to your new home.

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