June 14, 2008

Summer (Salad) Lovin'

Although my job leaves me generally “helping” with dinner instead of shopping, planning or instigating, I still have the same passion for good food as when I was able to spend hours relishing its preparation. Life has changed a lot in that respect this past year or so, but I’m still able to get cookin’ on the weekends.

Summer is in full swing here in DC, with highs in the upper 90’s this past week. We both leapt onto the grill this season – chile rubbed steaks, grilled plantains, burgers, corn on the cob, and the usual bbq fare. I dare to say it all tastes better enjoyed on our new deck, too. We are reveling in home ownership – perhaps a bit too much.

Summer also brings in the season of salads at our house. Throughout the year, I frown on salad. I can’t help but sigh at the thought of preparing or eating it. It’s a flaw, I know. How un-girl-like of me? I either leave most of the salad on my plate or devour it first so I can eat the good food afterward.

Maybe I’m a little harsh on myself. There are salads out there that I do really like, yet somehow it’s ingrained in me that salads do not equal satisfying. Well, I’ve finally found one that meets all my comfort food needs: Bread Salad. It has at least 2 things going for it. It has bread. It has cheese.

What I love about this salad (in addition to the 2 above highlights of life!) is that it’s so well balanced between strong flavors and summer freshness. This and a glass of wine is all I need for dinner. Please let me know if there’s another salad I could say that about? I may be a salad-hater, but I’m willing to be converted.

This salad stands up to many changes – swap ingredients as you see fit. Keep the bread, cheese and tomatoes but change up the greens, add artichoke hearts, grilled corn, or other vegetables. Olives are a must for me. Add grilled or roasted chicken (check the Zuni Café Cookbook!). Go wild.

We found these great heirloom grape tomatoes at a farmer's market.

Our Summer Staple: Bread Salad, or Panzanella
Serves 3-4

½ baguette, cut into cubes

Drizzle olive oil
Drizzle balsamic vinegar
2 large handfuls salad greens, baby spinach or arugula

½ pint grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced in half if too large
1 8-oz ball fresh mozzarella, diced

¼ cup sliced kalamata olives, or other briny black olives
¼ cup thinly sliced red onion, or scallions

2-3 Tbsp olive oil

1-2 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar

2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves

salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lay the bread cubes out on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (go lightly on the vinegar), and toss gently. Make the sure the bread is in one layer and place in the oven for approximately 6-8 minutes or until lightly toasted. This is to your preference, but we prefer them just toasted on the outside, not hard throughout like croutons.

In a large salad bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Add the tomatoes, mozzarella, olives and red onion. Toss to combine. Add the salad greens and cooled bread cubes and toss again. Serve immediately.