Summer Panzanella + tomatoes galore

Tomato season is here! Tomato season is here!

I have to admit, the first time I see the tomato stand pop up at our local farmers market, I get more excited than I should. My eyes widen as I look at the bounty of bright red, dark purple, vibrant orange, yellow and green fruit in all shapes and sizes. My mouth salivates as my mind wanders to bruschetta piled high with chopped tomatoes and basil, caprese salad, salsa and, of course, panzanella. 

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to this traditional Tuscan salad. It is typically made with bread and tomatoes, but I find that you can use the technique year-round with any seasonal produce. In the fall, I will toss the croutons with butternut squash, baby spinach and dukkah spice. The winter brings caramelized oyster mushrooms, bitter radicchio and a drizzle of aged balsamico. Spring ushers in a salad studded with asparagus, favas and english peas and finished with a bright, lemony dressing. And then there is summer, tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes. 

Summer Panzanella 

Every tomato has a different flavor profile -bold, juicy brandwine, sweet-like-candy sunbursts and bright, tart zebras just to name a few. Take advantage of this season's bounty and use a couple varieties (I usually use 3-4 types). Create more visual appeal by cutting them into different shapes - slices, wedges, large dice, halved cherry tomatoes (you eat with your eyes first after all!). 

Serves 2 (or one very hungry tomato-loving person)


Dressing:

juice of half a lemon

1 small clove garlic, crushed & minced finely

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt & pepper, to taste


Salad:

1 1/2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

2-3 slices rustic french bread (I like Acme Sweet Batard)

3-4 medium heirloom tomatoes, cut into a variety of shapes (slices, wedges, large dice)

1 small persian cucumber, thinly sliced

1/2 avocado, cut into wedges

2-4 ounces burrata cheese, optional

1/4 cup basil leaves, torn

Big, flaky sea salt, for garnish*


To make the dressing, place all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

To prepare the croutons, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When oil is shimmering, add slices of bread and fry until a light golden brown - about 1-2 minutes per side. Remove from pan and cut into large croutons, or for a more rustic look rip them into bite-sized pieces.

To assemble the salad, arrange tomatoes, cucumber, avocado and croutons on a large platter. If using burrata, pull apart and drape strands across the salad. Drizzle dressing over everything. Garnish with torn basil and a sprinkling of flaky sea salt.


*Note: I used Hawaiian Black Sea Salt for drama, but any salt with large flakes  will work here (such as Maldon or, if you are feeling fancy, fleur de sel). Besides heightening the sweetness of the tomatoes, you want the finishing salt to add crunch and texture.