Taste a Little More Summer with an End-of-Summer Panzanella Salad

I don’t even want to say it out loud, for fear it will come true, but does any one else feel like summer is... gulp... over? These dreary days, these gusty winds, these cool temperatures speak of change, of autumn, of... double gulp... winter. Mother Nature has decided that this year, she’s going with the rip-off-the-band-aid approach to seasonal change and she’s not messing around.

But I, for one, am not giving in without a fight. I, for one, will go down swinging. And eating. I will have my last hurrah and I urge you to join me. My weapon? An End-of-Summer Panzanella Salad, which will make you feel like you’re lolling in the shade on a hot summer’s day, even if you are, in fact, cowering under a blanket in a hoodie.

It seems like just yesterday I was dreaming of ways to eat asparagus and I shared a recipe for Spring Panzanella with you. It is our blessing and our curse in the Midwest, that the passage of time is indelibly and unavoidably marked by our seasons and the foods that go with them. I’ll admit that as much as the idea of an endless summer appeals to me, I wouldn’t give up the seasons and the changes they bring. I’ll take all the bitter cold and suffocating humidity that Minnesota doles out, because we also get to enjoy the eye-popping green of waking spring and that particularly gorgeous golden autumn light that makes me want to weep, or write poetry. We get those mornings after a snowfall where everything is hushed and white, unfamiliar and pristine. We get long summer days that yawn on forever, when dinner at nine seems just perfect. Yes, my friends, we kind of get it all. But all of that is not to say that we don’t have the right to push back a little bit. The temperature outside speaks of fall, but by my clock we still have a couple weeks of summer rolling out of the fields and off the trees, and we should take full advantage!

If there was ever a locavore motto that belongs on a t-shirt, it would be Get it While the Gettin’s Good and this End-of-Summer Panzanella delivers just that. (Not only does it deliver, it puts on the t-shirt, goes down to Daytona Beach for spring break, enters a wet t-shirt contest, and WINS a giant stuffed panda!) The following recipe is really just a guide because I suggest you throw in anything and everything you can find at the farmers market right now: tomatoes, peppers, beans, cucumbers, eggplant, zucchini, garlic, red onion all tossed together in a riot of textures, flavors and colors that celebrates these waning days of summer. Pour a nice glass of wine and enjoy it while you reminisce about all the things you managed to pack into our feistiest and sultriest of seasons. 

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End-of-Summer Panzanella Salad
(Adapted loosely from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted loosely from Barefoot Contessa)

For the croutons:

3 Tablespoons good-quality olive oil

1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)

6 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese

2 cloves of garlic finely chopped

salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:

2 large ripe tomatoes, cut into one-inch cubes

1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/2 inch thick

2 bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes (use some of the beautiful red, yellow, orange or purple ones for maximum color)

1/2 red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced

20 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped

3 Tablespoons capers, drained

1 small eggplant and/or zucchini, cut into 1 inch cubes, lightly sautéed in olive oil and cooled

one large handful of beans lightly blanched and cut into 1 inch pieces

For the vinaigrette:

1 teaspoon finely minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

3 Tablespoons champagne vinegar

1/3 cup good olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix the bread cubes with the garlic, olive oil, Parmesan, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Toss to coat well.

2. Transfer bread to a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake, stirring once or twice, until the croutons are crisp and lightly colored on the outside but still soft within, about 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside and let cool.

3. For the vinaigrette, whisk together the ingredients.

4. In a large bowl, mix all the vegetables you are using. Add the capers and bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper.

5. Serve immediately, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend.




Gabriela Lambert is a frequent contributor to Simple, Good and Tasty. Her last post for the site was Beat the Heat with a Spicy Moroccan Soup. You can also read more of her writing on her blog