As the end of summer nears, the fog moves out and the sun's long rays bring a ripening heat that sends the vineyards into harvest. This year's harvest started early and has been moving at a record pace as we race to capture the grapes at their most delicious. It's an exciting and exhausting time. This year's crop looks bountiful, for which we are extremely grateful. The September sun is also sending our backyard garden into overdrive; it's overfilling with cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, and herbs. It's a perfect time for an easy, delicious end-of-summer bread salad. Simply combine your produce with toasted bread cubes for a perfect meal. And, of course, why not pour yourself a chilled glass of wine while you're at it?
Summer Harvest Panzanella
1 loaf French Bread or Sour Dough, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 6 cups)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon (or 1 clove) finely minced garlic
1 medium shallot, minced (or add 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced, to vegetable mixture)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pint of mixed cherry tomatoes or 2 large tomatoes, cubed
1 cucumber, peeled if tough skin, and cubed
20 basil leaves, cut into a chiffonade or torn
6 ounces Fresh mozzarella, such as bocconcini - sliced in half
Optional: sliced zucchini, sliced peppers, fresh oregano, fresh corn, or any other produce.
Make vinaigrette by whisking together in a large bowl the garlic, red wine vinegar, 1/3 cup olive oil, and salt and pepper. Add the vegetables and mozzarella to the vinaigrette and let marinate while toasting the bread.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in large sauté pan. Add bread cubes and salt and sauté over medium heat until toasty and brown. Add another tablespoon of oil if needed. (If you don't mind turning on your oven, you can toss the bread with the olive oil and salt and bake in the oven at 400 degrees until toasty.)
Just before serving, toss the bread into the vegetables and vinaigrette mixture. Let sit for a few minutes to allow the flavors to blend. If left overnight, the bread will become soggy, but it's still delicious.