Farmers' markets are incredible. I am a huge self-proclaimed fan. I drag myself out of bed as early as I can manage on Saturday mornings and make the short trek to a farmers' market at the top of Prospect Park. I wander slowly through stands, contemplating all the delicious dishes I could make and marveling at the new fruits and vegetables that pop up each week. I take my time picking the perfect piece of produce, and I carry each one home carefully so there's no bruising.
But, despite the allure of the farmers' market, there's something different about going out into the garden and picking, straight off the vine, the ingredients you need for dinner.
I took the official garden tour while visiting my family this past week. I learned how to train strawberry plants to grow where you want them to and how to trim the leaves off basil and parsley so your plants produce a higher yield. I learned that tiny red and green onions do a lot to ward off predators. I learned how to keep a tomato plant growing. I even learned how to dig out and dry fresh garlic so you can enjoy it all winter long.
Mostly during the tour, I was just in awe at all the fresh vegetables surrounding me. We could just pluck a cherry tomato off the vine and nibble on it while we walked. My mind started spinning immediately, contemplating what we could eat.
My parents' garden was the real inspiration for this panzanella. I used what we had handy and fresh, instead of taking a long shopping list to the grocery store. Cucumbers. Tomatoes. Fresh basil. All fresh from the garden. All raw. All flavorful.
This salad will play a pivotal role in my summer eating experience.
Fresh Garden Panzanella
Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen
This panzanella easily served four for dinner and resulted in leftovers. I made the croutons as the directions say below, but next time, I might try mixing a bit of garlic into the olive oil before sauteeing the croutons for a bit of added flavor. I used a wheat bread and an olive bread, and the two together made a great combination in the salad.
Cook's Illustrated Magazine's most recent issue recommends using fresh bread to make the croutons, not day-old bread. Day old bread tends not to be any drier, just more crumbly, which isn't desired in this salad.
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups of leftover bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 large tomato, cut into 1-inch cubes (or 1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved)
1 cucumber, sliced into 1/2-inch cubes
1 bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
10 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons capers, drained
For the vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-low heat. Add the bread and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the croutons are nicely browned. Add more oil a few minutes in if necessary.
Whisk together ingredients for the vinaigrette. Set aside.
Mix together the tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, red onion and basil. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve immediately, or let the salad sit for a bit to allow the flavors to meld.