Inspired by one of the best starters at my most favourite restaurant, The Pipe of Port in Southend-on-Sea. A sprawling, sawdust-sprinkled cellar of conviviality, warm welcomes and hot pies, I have been enjoying this establishment for around fifteen years, and hope to continue to do so for many years to come. I was working on my local newspaper, the Southend Echo, in my early twenties when the call came in from the proprietor saying that they were going to put the restaurant up for sale. We dutifully ran the story and the outpouring of love and support from the local community was so great that within the week it was off the market because they had changed their minds. I make an effort to go as often as possible, which is far less than I’d like, and I have the toasts with pickled herring and blue cheese every single time. This panzanella is a tribute to many happy evenings there, without directly attempting to recreate something I love so much that I dare not fiddle with it.
First tear your bread into bite-sized pieces. You can slice it up if you prefer, but I like the rough edges and the physicality of breaking bread, possibly a hangover from my reckless youth in the congregation of the local Baptist church, or just a need to keep my hands busy. Pop your bread into a large mixing bowl.
Finely slice your spring onions, as small as you can get them, and add to the bowl.
Remove the rollmop herrings from the jar and remove any wooden sticks or stakes that may be holding them together. Not all brands use these, but it’s worth spending a moment picking them out instead of accidentally eating one…
Slice the rollmops into small chunks and add to the bowl. Crumble in your cheese. Roughly chop your parsley leaves and scatter through. Season with salt and plenty of pepper, a drizzle of oil and a dash or two of lemon juice. Toss everything together and leave to stand for 10 minutes to marinate and for the bread to soak up all of the various flavours.
Enjoy on the day of preparation. If making in advance, store the bread separately and combine just before serving.
© Jack Monroe, 2020