Probably the nicest thing about panzanella is that you can make it your own. The tradition, rather than the rule, dictates that you at least use bread, tomatoes, and basil. But after that, the layers of flavor by way of veg and herbs are up to your creativity. Which also means that it isn't strictly a summer salad, although many delicious veggies are in their prime during summer months.
This recipe features my favorite summer-centric vegetables: bell pepper, cucumber and corn with a pungent (yet simple) vinaigrette using garlic, lemon and Dijon mustard. You end up with taste that is both intense and laid back. It makes a killer dish side for a grill-out (though it may steal the limelight from the meats) or as a main for a just a few people. Versatile, delicious, beautiful, easy to make... all the good food things.
"Za'atar is a delicious Mediterranean spice blend, you can find it at specialty markets or on Amazon."
Notes: Olive oil is extra-virgin.
END OF SUMMER PANZANELLA
Ingredients: Small sour dough loaf, 3-4 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. za'atar (optional), 2 ears cooked corn, 1 lb. tomatoes, 1 English cucumber, 2 medium red bell peppers, 2 shallots, fresh bunches of each: basil, parsley, cilantro. For the vinaigrette: 1/2 cup olive oil, zest and juice of 1 lemon, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 tsp. Dijon mustard, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper.
Serves 6 well.
1. Prep everything: Cut sour dough into 1-inch cubes, grill or boil corn, then cut off the kernels, chop tomatoes, remove seeds and slice cucumber and bell pepper, slice shallot, chop the herbs.
2. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet pan and add the bread, salt and za'atar. Cook until browned, about 10 minutes, adding more oil if necessary. Remove and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, tip in the tomatoes, bell pepper, corn, cucumbers, shallots and herbs. Toss to combine, then add the bread and toss once more.
4. Make the vinaigrette by whisking all of the ingredients together. Pour over the panzanella and mix well.
5. Serve immediately, or set aside for 20-30 minutes before serving to allow flavors to deepen.