It’s gotten decidedly hot outside. This morning when I walked outside to go to work I was met with a wall of mugginess that does not bode well for the afternoon hours. It was, after all only 8 in the morning. When it’s like this, heating up the kitchen is an idea that is repugnant on a ridiculous scale (especially when I had the oven at a blistering 550º last night for baked potatoes and yes, it felt like the entrance to hell).
The summertime-like weather (I know summer is only a little more than a week away) makes me think of beautiful ripe produce. I like to make panzanella all throughout the summer in many different shapes and forms. I adore the simple tomato, bread and basil - but when there are so many options at this time of year it would be rude not to experiment.
Stone fruit can be a wonderful sweet burst of juicy delight - IF you can find RIPE fruit. I am absolutely disgusted by lovely looking fruit that is hard as a rock and completely devoid of any hint of aroma. What is the point of these inedible rocks? Yes, I will agree that if the fruit is hard and SMELLS like fruit then all is not lost - grilling them can give them a purpose.
My nose is usually what dictates my stone fruit purchases. When I walk by produce and then have to double back because I got a heady floral whiff that makes me close my eyes and smile - well, let’s just say that whatever invoked that response will be going home with me.
Nectarines can give panzanella a sweet twist on the norm. For this particular recipe I wanted the fruit straight as it was off the tree, but grilling it can give it another layer of flavor. I also made a light mustard vinaigrette instead of just using olive oil and vinegar. The thing with panzanella is that it’s easy to improvise. I also prefer to use grilled bread as opposed to simple toasted (or stale) bread - but, you can do what you want.
Make the vinaigrette first.
• 1 Large tablespoon of whole grain mustard
• 2 Cloves of garlic minced very fine (or use a microplane)
• 1/2 Cup of lemon juice
• 1/2 Cup of olive oil
• Salt and black pepper
• Drizzle of honey to balance out the acidity
This is something that you just have to mix up, taste, and balance. Just remember that salt blooms, so start with the minimal and add more later if necessary. You will be adding salt to the tomatoes and nectarines, so all of your salt doesn’t have to come from the dressing.
Put all ingredients into a jar, shake it vigorously, and set aside.
Build a fire and light your grill.
• In a large bowl, cut up enough tomatoes into large chunks to equal about 2 cups. It all depends on the kind/size of tomatoes you are using.
• Cut up enough nectarines into large chunks to almost equal the quantity of tomatoes.
• Season well with salt (you want the salt to start pulling the juice out of the tomatoes and fruit)
• Season well with pepper.
• Add a generous drizzle of dressing and toss well. Remember that the tomatoes and nectarines will be contributing their liquid to the final ‘dressing.’
• Set aside to macerate.
Time to grill your bread.
• Cut slabs of a great quality loaf with some good chew to it. An airy type of bread won’t hold up well in the final salad.
• Brush both sides with olive oil.
• Toast over hot coals until both sides have great golden to blackened char.
• For each portion, tear slice(s) of bread into substantial (but still small enough to fit in your mouth in a bite or two) chunks and add to the serving bowl.
• Add basil and arugula as desired.
• Add and toss a generous amount of the tomato/nectarine mixture with dressing - coating the bread well. You want the bread to soak up the dressing, but not become overly soggy (well, this is how I like my panzanella - but once again, do what you like).
• Garnish with cheese - For this version, I used a goat’s milk gouda.
• Season with a final bit of salt and pepper.
Sit. Eat. Enjoy a kitchen that is not sweltering.
If you have any residual dressing/juice leftover from the tomatoes and nectarines, add this to any leftover vinaigrette for a dressing variation for later use.