We're in it, people. The dog days of summer are just about here. (Oh man, now I have that Florence and the Machine song stuck in my head. You're welcome.) It's when you can't fathom turning on the stove and cooking over fire in 90 degree temperatures (i.e. grilling) seems like someone else's idea of crazy. It's when your body requires an arsenal of salads to hydrate, nourish and sustain you. I present you with dinner one night this week: Italian bread salad, or panzanella.
The point here is rustic simplicity; irregularities are happily part of the deal. Some people add red wine vinegar. Some don't. Some do other things with olive oil, adding more. I like how straightforward this is, so I'm sticking with it. I bought just about all of these ingredients at the farmers' market on Saturday, with the exception of the bread; I grabbed a half-loaf of Italian bread from Wegmans, because I couldn't bear to sacrifice the sesame epi from Apple Ridge Farm to this cause. Of course, if you have stale bread, this works even better—it's one of those old-school efficient recipes, reminding us that a bread that's lost some moisture hasn't yet lost its call of duty in the kitchen.
One last thing. This recipe is written on behalf of this week's Easton Farmers' Market Fresh Finds Market Tour. The theme? Summer salads. You want more? Come take my tour on Wednesday, August 6 at 6:30 in Center Square, Easton.
Serves 4-6 as main course or 6-8 as a side, depending on appetite
- 3-4 medium to large heirloom tomatoes, chopped into 1-2 inch chunks
- Kosher salt
- 4-6 slices of good country Italian bread, or any thick rustic loaf
- 1 clove of garlic, smashed
- 1-2 T. olive oil (not extra virgin)
- 2 cups cucumbers, peeled, seeded* and chopped into 1-2 inch chunks (*peeling and seeding are optional; if you're buying organic, there's no need to peel and seeds do not offend me)
- 1/2 cup red onion, chopped into 1-2 inch chunks
- 1/2 cup basil
- Combine the tomatoes and kosher salt in a large bowl, and then place the tomatoes in a fine mesh sieve and set them back over the bowl to drain for 1/2 hour.
- Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Smash the clove of garlic with the side of a chef’s knife against a cutting board and add the clove to the pan. Add the cubes of bread and toast them, turning periodically, 3-4 minutes. Alternately, you can toast the slices or put them under a broiler for a few minutes, and then cut them once they’ve cooled.
- Combine the chopped cucumbers and onion in a separate medium bowl.
- Discard the tomato juice and return the tomatoes to the bowl. Add the basil and bread cubes, and stir gently to combine. Allow this to sit for 10-15 minutes so the flavors can combine and the bread softens a little bit. Add in the bowl of cukes and onion and serve immediately.
If for some reason you have leftovers, this will keep for about a day in the fridge, but not much more. The bread is going to be soggy, tomatoes get watery and die in the fridge. You might consider sprucing it up a little if you have any more stale slices that need a job.