July 2, 2008
If you had asked me, right after after I made this panzanella, if there was anything more summery than this colorful salad, I would’ve confidently answered no. After cubing the baguette, quartering the tomatoes, dicing the mozzarella, and julienning the basil; after tossing it all together and letting it relax for a while, so the bread could soften up and the flavors could marry; after testing the balsamic-infused and caper-punctured results, I immediately concluded: this is as summer as it gets.
Since then, though, I keep stumbling upon things that are giving this panzanella a run for its money. The other night for instance, Kevin and I were walking home from dinner, strolling along in a summer-nights-only kind of saunter, purposely ducking down side streets. Halfway through a particularly quaint block—full of old brownstones, low-hanging tree branches and gardens spilling with flowers—we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a fire fly convention. I gasped when I saw the first one light up and by the time I discovered the swarm of his friends—coyly fading in and out of luminescence—I was downright giddy. We stopped and watched the show for a while and I thought: this is as summer as it gets.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
And then there’s the bundle of wildflowers we got at the farmers’ market on Sunday. I plucked the bunch out of a big white bucket under my favorite flower tent at the market and I couldn’t stop peeking at them all the way home, wrapped in their brown packing paper and fastened with a thick length of rustic twine. They’re now scattered throughout our apartment, in mason jars and pitchers and vases. They look like the world’s tiniest daisies, with lacy, leafy stems, and every time I pass by a bunch of them, I smile and think: this is as summer as it gets.
There have been other moments too: a rickety ice cream truck clambering down the street making its presence sing-song-ily known; a group of firemen sitting on the grass outside the station on Damen, most of them with their feet up, one strumming his guitar; abandoned hopscotch games stretching along several squares of sidewalk, thick stubs of pastel chalk the only evidence of their makers.
And now I’m staring down a three-day holiday weekend and I’ve got big plans for it: barbecues, cooking, a wedding. But what I’m really hoping for is more of these quintessential summer moments. I hope you have some too. To get you started, might I suggest some of this panzanella?
Adapted from Gourmet
1 large garlic clove
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 (12-inch) lengths of crusty baguette, cut into 1-inch cubes (12 cups)
3/4 lb cherry tomatoes, halved
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 lb green beans, trimmed and halved crosswise
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons capers (packed in brine), rinsed and drained
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 (15-oz) can cannellini beans or chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 lb lightly salted fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/3-inch dice
3/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Arrange oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 425°F.
Mince and mash garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt using a large heavy knife, then transfer to a small bowl and add 1/2 cup olive oil in a slow stream, whisking until combined well. Put bread cubes in a large bowl and drizzle with 3 tablespoons garlic oil, tossing to combine, then divide bread between 2 large shallow baking pans, arranging in 1 layer. Toast in oven, stirring once or twice, until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Leave oven on.
Gently toss tomatoes with 1 tablespoon oil (not garlic oil), 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a bowl, then arrange in 1 layer on a large shallow baking pan.*
Toss green beans in same bowl with remaining 2 tablespoons oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper, then arrange in 1 layer in another large shallow baking pan. Roast vegetables, switching position of pans halfway through roasting and shaking pans once or twice, until tomatoes are very tender but not falling apart and beans are just tender and browned in spots, 12 to 16 minutes. Cool vegetables in pans until ready to assemble salad.
While vegetables roast, add vinegar to remaining garlic oil along with capers, sugar, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and whisk to combine well.
Put green beans, tomatoes (along with any pan juices), toasted bread, beans, mozzarella, and basil in a large bowl, then drizzle with dressing and stir to combine well. Let stand 10 to 15 minutes at room temperature to allow flavors to develop, then stir just before serving.
* I didn’t roast the tomatoes because there was no room in the oven, sadly. I’d like to roast them next time, though. That said, the salad was delicious with raw tomatoes and roasted green beans.