Summertime means salads to me. We host lots of cookouts, and we are fortunate enough to be invited to many near our summer home, and I can’t stand showing up empty-handed. While at home, I like to make things ahead of our guests arriving so I can enjoy their company. In addition, I love using seasonal ingredients that are ripe and juicy—tomatoes might be my favorite of summer. Sun Gold tomatoes are ridiculously sweet if you can find them at a local farm stand. Or better yet, pick them yourself.
Salads are terrific in warmer months so you don’t feel so weighed down. Panzanella is perfect because it’s light for the most part, but the bread fills you up just enough. I created this version of panzanella by drawing inspiration from two of my favorite chefs, Ina Garten and newer on the scene, Jessica Merchant of “How Sweet Eats.” It’s fun to incorporate pieces of recipes from those I admire and create something that I believe is even more special and delicious. This is a perfect salad when entertaining because it’s fine at room temperature and isn’t too affected if it gets a little warm while sitting out.
6 cups rustic bread, such as country round, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 cups ripe cherry or grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, halved, seeded and cut ½ inch thicK
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, seeded, 1-inch diced
½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
20 large basil leaves, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced shallot
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/3 cup + 2 tblsp good olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
to taste kosher salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread bread cubes on a baking sheet and toss them with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 15-20 minutes, tossing once in the middle, until toasted.
While the bread is in the oven, place the tomatoes in a colander over a large bowl, season with salt, and toss with your hands to mix. Allow juices from the tomatoes to collect in the bowl for 15-20 minutes, tossing occasionally to release juices. (The tomatoes in the colander step is not essential if you’re trying to remove steps.) Cut/prepare all other vegetables and herbs.
To make the vinaigrette, whisk together tomato juices, garlic, shallots, vinegar, 1/3 cup olive oil, and ½ teaspoon salt.
In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, basil, and capers.
Add bread cubes and vinaigrette and toss to coat. Ideally, allow the salad to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes for the flavors to blend.