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I feel like I begin every post recently with an apology. Mostly for lateness. And I was ready to apologize this time as well, because really, calling this recipe seasonal would be pushing it.

Panzanella is ideally midsummer food. It’s perfect with those beautifully gnarly heirloom tomatoes, and is the kind of thing you devour for an alfresco lunch in July. But (and I make this confession knowing that some of you may only hate me as a result), the weather where I live is still kind of perfect. It’s California after all. That infuriating place where late September still means ripe tomatoes at the farmers markets, where the temperatures are still in the glorious high 70s, and where we can pretend that summer is not in fact, over.

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Join me in this place of denial for a moment. Because then you can make this panzanella pronto, before the produce you need for it is truly and totally out of season. Save the mealy hothouse tomatoes for another recipe. This one deserves your pretty girls.

If you’re a panzanella newbie, this recipe is a treat. Essentially an Italian bread salad accented with fresh vegetables, it’s a feast for the eyes and the tastebuds. For those of you that have made panzanella before, the game changer here is toasting the bread cubes before tossing the salad. It allows it to get soft and juicy without venturing into the dreaded territory of soggy. The dressing is light and bright. All in all, it’s perfect early fall late, late, late summer food.

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Really Late, Great Summer Panzanella

Recipe adapted from Ina Garten

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small loaf artisan bread (I used an Acme olive loaf), cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
2 large, ripe tomatoes (heirlooms are amazing), cut into 1-inch cubes
1 small Persian cucumber, unpeeled, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
handful basil leaves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons capers, drained

For the vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan. Add the bread and salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed.

For the vinaigrette, whisk together the ingredients.

In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, basil, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Serve, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend.

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