This no-recipe recipe, which honors the last bits of summer herbs and vegetables, is one of my favorite ways to celebrate the closing days of the season. Much like the traditional Tuscan panzanella salad, made to revive leftover stale bread, this summer version requires little in the way of measurements. A good strong vinaigrette and ripe fragrant tomatoes are a must, but the rest can be free-form and include whatever inspires you. Think lots of vegetables and herbs, maybe some mozzarella or burrata or blue cheese; olives and anchovies. In winter, try roasted squash, some shredded cabbage and chunks of Parm. Timing is important, too: Toss everything gently together and eat it before it gets too soggy. Toasting your bread thoroughly will also help make sure the salad doesn’t turn to mush. But it can keep, once, tossed an hour or so at room temp.
End-of-Summer Bread and Veg Salad
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 ciabatta or baguette, preferably day-old, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 6 cups)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons vinegar (red wine vinegar or vinagre de jerez)
1 large garlic clove, minced
About 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small white or red onion, halved and thinly sliced (1/2 cup)
1 teaspoon fresh oregano or thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning or herbes de Provence
1 1/2 pounds very ripe tomatoes
A handful of celery leaves or parsley leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
Optional ingredients: grated carrot; cucumber slices; fresh figs; cherries; olives; capers; toasted nuts; blue cheese; mozzarella; burrata.
1. If using fresh bread, make sure to dry it out by toasting first. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spread bread cubes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake bread cubes, tossing once, until they are dried out and golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool.
2. Combine mustard, vinegar, and garlic together in a large bowl. Drizzle in 4 tablespoons olive oil, whisking constantly. Add onion, herbs, tomatoes, and celery or parsley leaves, and any optional ingredients. Add bread and cheese, if using. Season with salt and pepper. Toss gently to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more olive oil, salt, or vinegar, as needed. Serve at once or let sit, up to two hours, until ready to serve.