Each summer I choose a salad that will become my go-to barbecue and party contribution for the season. One year I spent three months making variations of potato salads (my husband really liked that year). The next time around, I declared that it was to be the summer of slaw and ended up shredding cabbage, carrots, beets and kohlrabi well into the fall. The year I got married, I was all about quinoa salads.
I find that I really appreciate having a particular genre of salad to work with each year, as it gives me some structure (always a good thing in a busy life), but also allows me to explore the many different varieties that each kind of salad embodies. There’s a great deal of pleasure in trying on different combinations and seeing how the various flavors mix and marry.
Recently I decided that the summer of 2013 is going to be all about panzanella. This is a traditional Italian salad that stars cubes of toasted stale bread and often features tomatoes and a variety of other crunchy, savory things. It can be made with grilled vegetables, sweet potatoes and even chicken or tofu (I do love a salad that can become a full meal).
I’ve always believed that tomatoes were a requirement, but Bobby Flay’s recipe for Panzanella Verde has changed my mind. He has you make a fragrant, vividly green dressing of red wine vinegar, olive oil and lots of basil to use as your softening agent (often, tomatoes are the thing lending their moisture to the mix). You toss grilled bread cubes and vinaigrette with arugula, cucumbers, torn basil, olives and capers in this deeply flavored dish. It goes wonderfully with any manner of grilled food and is the perfect thing for a hot summer Weekender.
Before you start cooking, read these tips:
— Bobby calls for ciabatta bread for this salad, but baguettes or long loaves of Italian bread will work. Just make sure to choose something sturdy so that it doesn’t melt away into the vinaigrette.
— I recommend making a double batch of the vinaigrette, as I’ve found that it’s a really fabulous thing to have for midweek salads and marinades.
— If you don’t want to heat up the grill, quickly toast the bread under the broiler in your oven instead. It only takes a few minutes so it shouldn’t heat up your house.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, is now available.