Panzanella Salad

When the Husband and I were first dating, he took me to his family’s lake house down in central Ohio.  I was a little nervous as I hadn’t spent that much time with his parents before.  The Husband is the youngest of six, and there were quite a lot of Damrons hanging around that day.  I sorta wanted to make a good impression.  We sat down to dinner at one of a few different picnic tables beside the water, where I had a primo seat beside my future father-in-law.  Trays and bowls and dishes were passed.  When he handed me a platter of sliced raw tomatoes, I smiled politely but slid it on to my boyfriend beside me.  His father was aghast.  Maybe even a little disappointed.  “No tomatoes for you?”  He leaned forward, looked across me to my BF, pointed his thumb at me and asked “No tomatoes for her?  What’s wrong with this one?”  and to me, “What’s the matter with you?”  I sputtered, “I — I — I — don’t really care for raw tomatoes.”  “Is that right?” he asked.  “Huh.  Well all right, more for me.”
He then said he could forgive me for not liking raw tomatoes, but if I didn’t like Ohio sweet corn I could hit the road.  Good thing I enjoy corn on the cob I guess.  I was allowed to stick around.

Despite my feelings about raw tomatoes, this salad is one of my all time favorites.  I could eat it for dinner all on its own, but I love it alongside grilled chicken or fish.  It’s the perfect summer side dish, and a great way to use both the sale Romas and the Sendik’s Artisan Ciabatta Bread.

Have a great 4th.  : )

PANZANELLA SALAD
Serves:  12
Source:  Barefoot Contessa PARTIES!, by Ina Garten, pp. 102-103

3 T. olive oil
1 small loaf of French bread, cut in 1” cubes (about 6 cups) (Sendik’s Artisan Ciabatta Bread is on sale this week, 7/4/12 to 7/10/12, this is what I’ll be using)
1 t. salt
2 large tomatoes, cubed (Roma Tomatoes are also on sale this week; I’ll use three)
1 English cucumber, seeded and sliced 1” thick
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced into 1” cubes
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced into 1” cubes
½ red onion, julienned
20 large basil leaves, chopped
3 T. capers, drained

DRESSING:
1 t. minced garlic
½ t. Dijon mustard
3 T. champagne vinegar (champagne vinegar is great, but I use white wine, sherry vinegar, or whatever light vinegar I have on hand)
½ c. olive oil
½ t. kosher salt
1/4  t. ground 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.  (*NOTE:  I make these in the oven; just toss the bread with the oil and salt, and spread the cubes on a cookie sheet.  Bake at 375 for 10 minutes, toss, and continue to bake until golden and toasty.)

For the dressing, place all the ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake until well blended (I use my stick blender, which emulsifies dressings in a snap).

In a large bowl, mix all of the vegetables, the basil, and the capers.  Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour to blend the flavors.

Featured, Fresh, Frugal, Fabulous | July 3rd, 2012