Few of us can resist the smell, taste, texture, look, feel, personality, heart and soul (let’s get it all in there) of freshly-baked bread. And when tearing open your first hot cross bun of the season, and catching that first whiff of cinnamony fruitiness, it always feels like coming home. But to most of us, the thought of stale bread usually results in a wrinkling of the skin covering the bridge of the nose – a wrinkling that can easily spread to to the lower forehead, uniting the brows in an unattractive frown. What a shame. Stale bread, after all, is not just for the birds. You can crumb your chicken with it, make bruschetta, French toast, or in this case, a mouthwateringly good, Good Friday hot cross bun bread salad. Never heard of it? Well, you have now.
Living in Nice, Easter is a time when – after a long winter of Napoletana sauces and tomato pastes – I start getting some serious cravings (like, pregnant serious) for fresh tomatoes. And although they’re not technically in season in France yet, I’ll confess that I sometimes cheat and buy them from a supermarket…the imported kind! I also love spring for the fact that, whether I’m in France or South Africa, I can eat a bread salad without feeling like the odd one out. With this salad, which is basically a panzanella (Italian bread salad), I’ve decided to use an old trick my mother taught me; drying out old bread. But in this case, I dried out some hot cross buns to make this sweetly spiced, panzanella-inspired salad
Any South African who has lived abroad will know that no one – and I mean no one – does Easter the way we do. Even in countries that also observe the Easter tradition, I’m not as aware of Easter as I am in South Africa. It’s a time for family – for being together – no matter who you are or what you believe in. It’s like our Thanksgiving, I suppose. During this time of year, hot cross buns are in ample supply in South Africa. There’s the traditional kind, extra spicy, extra chocolatey, extra fruity…the list goes on. And if you’re anything like me, you probably slip half a dozen into your basket every time you pop down to the shops, which sometimes (and only sometimes) means you find yourself overstocked.
The humble hot cross bun, with its combination of sweet, spicy and fruity flavours is an Easter tradition that is said to have had its origin in the 12th century when an unnamed Anglican monk baked them for the first time. To remind his fellow brothers of the cloth that Easter isn’t all about egg hunts, pagan bunnies and ambrosial baked goods, he marked each bun with a cross. Today, the hot cross bun is an Easter tradition that reaches across the globe from the UK and Ireland to Australia and New Zealand, including some parts of the Americas and, of course, South Africa.
As with all the best Italian dishes, the panzanella started as Tuscan peasant food. It’s originally a summer salad made of a combination of fresh, seasonal produce like tomatoes, onions and basil. To make the salad more filling, its early inventors supplemented it with their old bread, adding it to the salad and drenching it in olive oil and vinegar. As all the ingredients are tossed together, the bread soaks up the juices, oil and vinegar. For this version, though, you can also drizzle the salad with the sauce from your kêrrievis (see Pickled Baby Hake with Peaches) for that extra South African flavour boost, which perfectly complements the spiciness of the hot cross croutons.
6 hot cross buns
600 g variety of baby tomatoes
12 small radishes
handful fresh basil leaves
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 yellow pepper, cut in small blocks
1 red pepper, cut in small blocks
120 ml olive oil
juice of 2 lemons
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 150 °C. Break the hot cross buns into bite-sized pieces and place it on a baking tray. Then, place it in the oven until it’s crispy.
Halve or quarter the tomatoes (it’s up to you). Quarter the radishes and mix with the tomatoes, onion, yellow and red peppers. Add the hot cross bun pieces.
Mix the olive oil and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle it over the salad and toss thoroughly.