A pre-intermediate lesson on Panzanella

Panzanella 1

The English language and lesson plans.

I think that those are the best two phrases which sum up my life at present.

During this month of July, I’m training to be an English Language teacher, so that I can take this new skill and (hopefully) qualification with me to Cambodia.  I’m doing the intensive 4-week CELTA course and we’ve just passed the halfway mark.  In our most recent tutorials, my teaching practice group had been encouraged to try out materials in the classroom, outside of our coursebooks.  On Monday we had a lesson on using ‘authentic’ texts.  Texts, which are not created for the sole purpose of teaching.  I felt inspired to try it out in my next lesson… which just happened to be the next day.

Step 1: tear up the bread

Me, being me, wanted to try using a recipe as authentic text.  We teach in pairs.  Each person has 45 mins to do half of the lesson.  On Tuesday, I was teaching with Rachel.  We divvied out the skills and the language.  I had listening and vocabulary, Rachel had writing and grammar.

H (imagine it with lots of enthusiasm): “I was thinking that we could do food as a topic and use a recipe to teach it.”

R: Ooh.  Yes.  There’s lots of imperatives and vocabulary that we could be teaching.  I could get them to write a recipe to follow on.

Tomatoes and Panzanella bread

And as I had the enviable task of teaching the skill of listening, I thought that a short video from someone like Nigella would be good as they’re easily accessible on the BBC Good Food or youtube.

Half an hour into drafting out the two parts of our lesson, our teacher tells us that recipes are notoriously tricky to teach because the extensive vocabulary, and more importantly, she reminds us that it is Ramadan and half of the group are muslims.  Perhaps we are being a bit culturally insensitive to teach on the topic of food?  “But,” she tells us, “it’s too late to change the topic of the lesson.”  So, Rachel and I continue with our plans, with a tinge of apprehension.  Enlightened, I wondered aloud, whether Nigella was really the best fit for our group of learners.  “I wonder whether she’s too flirtatious on screen?”  Rachel points out, “the ingredients in her recipes aren’t always normal ones either.”

And this is how I came to be teaching 14 students, a recipe on how to make a Tuscan Bread Salad called Panzanella – i mean, it’s not even an English dish!  However, importantly for our group of pre-intermerdiate learners, the ingredients are few and commonly available and the method is simple.

I had never heard of Panzanella until I watched Simon Hopkinson’s, A Good Cook, a few years back.  I’ve raved about him before to you, haven’t I.  I love his recipes and they have been really doable to recreate.  Panzanella has become my favourite taste the summer salad: the one that I make when I want to taste a bit of sunshine, regardless of the weather outside.  The difference in flavour imparted by sun-ripened tomatoes and good extra virgin olive oil sets it apart.  It’s also simple to make, healthy, easily adaptable to other ingredients and filling because of the bread.  Have I sold it to you yet?  I’ll continue.  How about, it’s a great way to use up any stale bread and it uses ingredients that you’re likely to have knocking around in your fridge and cupboards?

onions, tomatoes, bread, panzanella

Simon Hopkinson’s Panzanella recipe, as I presented it to the class. (The italicised parts are what I’ve edited in since, for your benefit.)

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 5 handfuls of sourdough bread (think of a slice of thick bread as being a handful)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 7 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 red onion
  • 6 vine tomatoes – you want about 200-250g.  Try substituting cherry tomatoes (see step 5)
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • handful of basil leaves

Cucumber, tomatoes, onions, bread, panzanella

Method

  1. Tear the bread into small pieces and put it into a bowl.  The best bread to use is sourdough bread, but you can use any stale bread.
  2. Season with salt and pepper.  You can always add more seasoning later on.
  3. Add the olive oil and red wine to the bowl.  You don’t have to add in all the olive oil, if you want to be a bit healthier.
  4. Put the tomatoes into another bowl and pour boiling water over them.  This helps the skin to come off.
  5. Remove the tomatoes from the water.  Peel off the tomato skins and cut the tomatoes before adding it to the bread.  If you want to be simplify this step, then you can get away with not removing the tomato skins or use the equivalent weight in cherry tomatoes.  I like removing the tomato skins, not just for the therapeutic value but also, because it softens the feel of it in your mouth when you eat it.
  6. Peel a cucumber and cut it into small pieces.  Add it to the bread and tomatoes.
  7. Cut the onion into thin slices and add it to the bread. Try using red onions or shallots because they are milder in flavour.
  8. Finely cut or crush the garlic cloves before you add them to the salad.  You could reduce the number of garlic cloves if you don’t want such a strong flavour.
  9. Tear up the basil leaves.  This is essential and you must not miss them out!
  10. Finally, mix up the ingredients.  I’d suggest mixing them up with your hands because it always tastes better when you do.
  11. You could serve this on a hot summer’s day for lunch with friends, or on any day that you want a taste of summer.
  12. Don’t forget to pair it with a fruity red wine.

And how was the lesson? (I don’t normally ask that at the end of a blog post on food!  Told you my life is about the English Language and lessons plans at the moment.)  The panzanella video with Simon Hopkinson went down really well with the learners, they learned some new words but then I got unexpectedly bogged down for 5 minutes trying to explain basil to the group.  I learned that asking, “What is basil?” is relating noise to notion (there’s some TEFL jargon for you!), and that is not the way to do teach new vocabulary!  I ran out of time to do all the planned activities because of my basil moment, so I wasn’t too sure how it had gone when I finished my part.  The group did appear to be enjoying the subject matter, even with it being Ramadan.  Then in Rachel’s part of the lesson, I was delighted when the learners reproduced the vocabulary in the recipes and produced some really detailed, high quality writing in their recipes.  In fact, our observer really praised Rachel and me on our learners’ outputs.

Well done, pre-intermediate class in room 118!

This weekend I have an assignment to write and a lesson to plans, so I’d better get back to it.  I leave you with this one question – how would you describe/define basil to english as a foreign language learners?

Panzanella