Harvest Bounty

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.

Fig Focaccia paired with McIlroy Chardonnay

As summer winds down, overflowing baskets of figs fill the markets. If you're searching for a new way to enjoy the bounty, consider topping a homemade focaccia dough with them and serving it with a salad and a bottle of chilled McIlroy Chardonnay. It's a delicious dinner to enjoy al fresco on these precious late summer evenings. 



Focaccia Dough:
Adapted from Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day

To make the dough: Put all ingredients in a large bowl and stir until combined with a wooden spoon or in a stand mixer. Cover the container and let it rest for about 2 hours on the counter. The warmer the location, the faster it rises. The longer it takes, the more developed the dough flavor will be. The dough can be used right away, but it is much easier to handle once it has been thoroughly chilled. The dough can be stored in the refrigerator for 1 week.

Focaccia Toppings:

Olive oil for pan
2 shallots (or more if small), thinly sliced and sautéed in olive oil or butter until lightly golden
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
3 ounces fresh goat cheese (chèvre)
Sea salt, preferably Maldon or other large flake salt
Balsamic, to drizzle
5 Figs, any variety, sliced in half lengthwise

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees with a pizza stone in the center (if you have one). Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a 9-inch cake pan. Set aside.

Dust the surface of the focaccia dough with flour and pull off a one pound (grapefruit size) piece of dough. Dust with more flour and shape into a ball. Using your hands, shape it into a half-inch thick round. Place it in the prepared pan and move it around so the surface is covered with olive oil. Flip the dough over and then let it rest for 15-20 minutes, covered with plastic.

After it has rested, press the dough towards the edges of the pan. Sprinkled the sautéed shallots over dough, press the figs, cut sides facing up, into the dough in a circle. Place chunks of goat cheese in the bare places and sprinkle thyme and sea salt over the top. Cover and let rest for another 20 minutes.

Uncover and place pan on the well-heated pizza stone (if using). Bake for 20 minutes or until focaccia is medium brown. Cut into wedges and serve as an appetizer or with a salad for lunch.