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


  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?


Simon Hopkinson’s Cheese and Onion Pie

cheese and onion pie

Last week, I made Simon Hopkinson’s Cheese and Onion pie in celebration of national pie week. I can’t recommend it highly enough. This pie is really tasty and simple to make, and even easier if you use ready-made shortcrust pastry from the shop.

Last summer, when I watched Simon Hopkinson make this on the Good Chef, I thought that he made it seem so irresistably tasty and simple. I don’t think that I’d made a savoury shortcrust pastry pie before this one (correct me if your memory is better than mine). If you want to simplify it with shop-bought shortcrust pastry and don’t count seasoning, then I count 3 cheap and easy to obtain ingredients that go into this pie: cheese, onions, pastry.

Okay, so I realise that the phrase ‘shop-bought shortcrust pastry’ keeps coming up. Reserve your judgement please. I’m making a stand for all of us who struggle to make shortcrust pastry from scratch without it falling apart. I hadn’t realised that there was so much disdain out there for those of us who buy blocks of ready made shortcrust pastry. But when I put them on the conveyor belt at Tesco’s, the cashier and the lady in front of me in the queue immediately tut-tutted me for not making it myself. “It’s so simple, you know to make it at home. You just put it in the food processor and it’s done.” No, believe me! It’s not that simple. I tried your method and Simon’s method and it ended up falling apart like a patchwork quilt. See what a disaster it was the only time I tried making the pastry from scratch.

blissfully ignorant short crustsad shortcrust pastryjust fell apart short crust

1. Blissful ignorance of the disaster to come; 2. Look – the pastry even looks sad!; 3. and it all falls apart.

Note to self: practise making pastry.

Since the summer, I’ve already made this pie four times and I’m no cheese-lover. So I’m pretty much saying that, I love this pie. Admittedly, having watched Simon Hopkinson’s video again, my onions look browner and my pastry more soggy. Even so. I’m choosing to imagine that this pie will get scrummier and scrummier the more I practice making it.

So here’s the yummy Simon Hopkinson’s Cheese and Onion Pie. It does take a while… so choose a moment when you don’t mind waiting at least 2 hours from start to finish.

First step in this pie making is sorting out the pastry side of things. I’ll give you the ingredients for the pastry a la Simon Hopkinson, which means that I’ve got a note of it to attempt it at another time. If you’ve decided on the ready-made stuff then don’t forget to preheat the oven at this stage and grease your pie dish. (read below)

Ingredients for the pastry

  • 60g/2oz cold butter, diced into small pieces
  • 60g/20z lard, diced into small pieces
  • 200g/7oz self-raising flour
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 2-3 tbsp of very, very, very cold water

Alternatively… a 350g block of ready-made shortcrust pastry. Last time, I bought the ready rolled stuff because it was on offer. Tee hee….

Method for the pastry

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 and grease a pie dish 20cm wide. I have used both a pryex pie dish and a loose-bottomed deep flan dish.

cheese and onion pie 3cheese and onion pie 2

2. Place the butter, lard, flour and salt in a food processor and mix until it looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Alternatively place the ingredients in a large bowl and with your fingertips, gently rub the fat into the flour so that it looks like coarse breadcrumbs. You don’t want to be making them too fine because that means that the fat gets too warm.

3. Add 2tbsp of water to bind the mixture. If it looks a bit dry then add in one more tbsp of water.

4. Cut off a third of it and lay it to one side. Roll out the remainder 2/3 of the pastry so that it is 5mm thick and lay it on the pie dish, pressing it against the sides. Remember to prick the bottom of it. Roll out the remaining third of pastry into a circle so that it will cover the pie. Leave it to one side and turn your focus to the pie filling.

frying onions

lancashire cheese coarsely grated

Ingredients for the Pie Filling

  • 25g/1oz butter
  • 3 white onions, sliced
  • 250g Lancashire Cheese, grated
  • approx 150ml cold water
  • Salt & Pepper to season
  • milk for sealing and glazing

Method for the Pie Filling

1. Roughly slice the onions, melt butter in the frying pan on a medium heat and add the onions to the pan. Fry the onions on a medium-low heat. Season with lots of pepper and some salt as you do this. Add 150ml water to the pan so that the onions stay moist. Maybe that’s where I go wrong and allow the onions to brown before adding the water. Next time! Once the onions have softened and become translucent, take the pan off the heat and allow the onions to cool down slightly.

2. In the waiting time, grate the cheese.

3. Time to layer up! Add half of the onions and spread them out in the pie. Then add a layer of cheese. Follow with a second layer of onions and another layer of cheese.

cheese and onion pie 4

I made the cuts where I had accidentally made holes in the pastry

4. I sometimes forget this step, but try and remember to brush the rolled out circle of pastry with milk, and lay it milk side down onto the pie to cover the cheese and onion mixture. Gently press the pastry cover on the top and press it against the sides to let the air out and also to seal the pie.

5. Cut off the pastry that’s hanging over with a sharp knife. At this point, I decided to copy Simon and make a pretty pattern on the top of my pastry. It’s not very important to do. What is more important is to make three 1 inch incisions in the pastry so that the air can come out while it’s cooking. Then glaze the top with milk.

6. Bake it in the oven for 40-50 minutes. Take it out and let it cool down for at least 20 minutes before cutting into it and taking a bite.

The verdict? MMMmmmmm… Heavenly.

cheese and onion pie 1