I have always thought that the months when summer tomatoes are peaking should be added to our national holiday calendar. For my family, when you can smell those ripe, colorful and juicy beauties at the farmers markets and supermarkets before you even see them, that is a reason to celebrate!
I am partial to heirloom tomatoes because of their gorgeous diversity in color, size and flavor. Plus, they look stunning on a plate and taste even better — even when barely dressed with just a drizzle of olive oil, flake salt and fresh ground pepper.
One of my favorite dishes to show off the idiosyncratic qualities of these tomatoes is the panzanella salad. Originally from Tuscany, Italian panzanella combines simple ingredients that can be thrown together in a hurry to create something magically delicious.
You can use the traditional stale bread that does such a great job of absorbing the olive oil and juices of your tomatoes or grill or toast any old bread you have at hand. In my recipe, I add mozzarella. However, feel free to use whatever cheese you love the most (or omit entirely). It’s very hard to mess this up!
Panzanella with mozzarella
3 cups sourdough, ciabatta or baguette, torn into bite-size pieces
4 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
2 pounds very ripe tomatoes, any variety, cut into bite-size pieces
6 ounces mozzarella, torn into bite-size pieces
½ cup red onion, sliced very thinly
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ cup parsley leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced or put through a garlic press
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, more to taste
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, minced
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
¾ cup torn basil leaves
1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Take your torn bread chunks in a bowl, toss them in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and some salt, then spread them out evenly on a baking sheet. Bake for about seven to 15 minutes until they are slightly crispy.
2. Put your tomatoes in a large bowl. Add mozzarella (or cheese of choice), red onions, 1 tablespoon vinegar and ¼ teaspoon salt (or to taste). Toss the ingredients well and set aside.
3. In a small bowl, combine garlic, 1 tablespoon vinegar, Dijon, shallot, salt and pepper. Slowly add the 4 tablespoons of olive oil, constantly whisking to incorporate. Add in your basil leaves.
4. Combine toasted bread, tomatoes and dressing in a large bowl. Toss well. Let sit for at least 30 minutes and up to four hours. Before serving, sprinkle with parsley leaves and add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil.