panzanella – a sun-drenched salad

Our spectacular summer has left my gardens completely sun-drenched and bursting with tomatoes.

Last summer, I planted twenty four tomato plants and harvested a dozen tomatoes. This year, I have forty eight tomatoes on one plant. It’s fantastic what a lot of sunshine and a little cow poop can do!

I’ve wanted to make panzanella – the classic stale bread and tomato Italian salad – for years but every time local tomatoes were in season I would forget. This year when I was in Rome, I ordered it for lunch. My salad was dismal! It was nothing more than a vinegary bowl of mushy bread with a few tomato bits thrown in as an after thought. A dish does not earn the distinction of being called a ‘classic‘ because it’s awful.

As soon as my tomatoes started to ripen, I started to play until I created the taste and texture that I’ve dreamed of.  Ripe, juicy tomatoes, crisp cool cucumbers, sweet bell peppers, tons of fresh basil, warm crunchy croutons tossed in a sharp vinaigrette makes a salad worthy of its pedigree!

Summer Panzanella

serves 2

Croutons

4 tablespoons good olive oil
2 cups Italian bread, cubed
sea salt, to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the bread cubes and salt; cook over low/medium heat, tossing frequently until nicely browned. Add more oil if needed. Take your time with the croutons. They will make or break your salad! I turn every bread cube individually with 2 forks…

Vinaigrette

Whisk together:

1 clove of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the Salad

a variety of ripe tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on the size – You can use as many tomatoes as you can eat!
cucumber, peeled and chunked
red bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips
red onion, thinly sliced – I used the thinnings from my garden
20 large basil leaves, torn
1 tablespoon capers, drained

In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, red onion, basil, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Serve immediately – I like my croutons warm and crunchy. If the salad sits they become mushy…

Thanks for reading.