Summer Panzanella with Nectarines and Mozzarella
I’ve been doing a lot of early morning walks on the West Side Highway now that it’s warmer out, which is downright glorious. I like to pick up coffee and escort my busy and important friend, Starr, from the West Village to her office in the Financial District, and then meander home on my own. The solo walk is obviously great for deep thinking/Snapchatting to the sweet, sweet sounds of 90s hip-hop, but what I love most is the people watching.
There’s something magical about that walking path circa 7:45am, simply by virtue of the beautiful variety of humans that populate it. Sure there are your average super fit New Yorkers running and walking in fancy fitness attire, but then there are the standouts….
A middle-aged man running in a multicolored Speedo loudly singing along to Journey. Two moms doing some sort of Prancercise routine while pushing their strollers through Battery Park. An 80+ year old woman, rocking Jane Fonda-esque attire and doing the grapevine. Groups of people flying through the air on Kangoo Jumps. A young dude in gold sequin shorts and an American flag bandana sprinting like a bat out of hell. People of all shapes, sizes, colors, and sexual orientations just doing their thing every single morning, waving their freak flags in the most amazing, genuine way.
In light of all the heartbreaking, hate-driven things that have happened in the past few days, this morning’s walk home was particularly life-affirming. Truth be told, I tried to write a bunch of blog posts this week and failed miserably. There are so many ridiculous stories and delicious things that I have to share with all of you, but I haven’t been able to get any words out because, right now, I feel overwhelmingly…sad. And while it’s uncomfortable to write that on the internet (especially since some peeps just came for the panzanella, dammit!), I think it’s important for all of us to take a minute to live in the sadness. Acknowledge it. Let it motivate each of us to make changes for the better, no matter how small, and remind us to revel in, rather than fear, our personal differences.
(As you can imagine, I’ve never appreciated the West Side weirdos more than I did today. It warms my heart that the “you do you” mentality is alive and well on the highway, and it took everything in my power not to scream, “You go, Glenn Coco!!” at the neon unitard-clad man that ran backwards past me at breakneck speed.)
I obviously don’t want to get political here (horror of food blog horrors!!), but I would like to very gently suggest that we all put a little extra love and happiness out into the world this week. I’m going to koala hug my roommate a little tighter than usual, call my parents, and remind my friends how grateful I am for their general awesomeness and presence in my life. I also plan to watch James Cordon karaoke with the Chili Peppers an embarrassing number of times, crank the JT, and eat bright, happy, shareable foods like this Summer Panzanella with Nectarines and Mozzarella with my favorite people.
Smooth segue to the food, right?
In case you’re not familiar with its wonders, panzanella is a Tuscan bread salad that’s usually made with chunks of dried bread tossed with ripe tomatoes, olive oil and vinegar. The bread gets saturated (but still retains a little crunch) with the tomato juices and dressing, and the result is a highly textured, vibrant taste treat that is so much more than the sum of its parts. This version incorporates sweet nectarines (my go-to summer stone fruit), crunchy cucumbers, fresh basil, and plenty of creamy mozzarella. It’s a fabulous light meal on its own, but it’s also the perfect side for summer picnics and barbecues, since it comes together quickly/travels extremely well. (And while it doesn’t photograph in the sexiest way, it’s actually quite the showstopper in person. Promise.)
- 4 cups 1-inch bread cubes I like French bread or Ciabatta for this
- 1½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil divided
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 cups cherry or grape tomatoes about 1 pound, halved from pole to pole
- 2 nectarines pitted and diced
- 1 cup thinly sliced seedless cucumber I used mini cucumbers.
- ¾ cup thinly sliced red onion about ½ a small red onion
- ½ packed cup fresh basil leaves cut into chiffonade
- 4 ounces fresh mozzarella diced or torn into roughly ¾-inch pieces
For the dressing:
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 garlic cloves grated or finely minced
- ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes optional
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment.
In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes with the olive oil and generous pinch of salt and pepper. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Bake until crisp, firm and very lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
Meanwhile, whisk the red wine vinegar, garlic, mustard, and crushed red pepper (if using) in a medium bowl. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly, until fully emulsified (aka well incorporated and smooth). Season generously with salt and pepper.
In a large bowl toss the toasted bread cubes, tomatoes, nectarines, cucumber, red onion, and basil. Drizzle with the dressing and gently toss to coat. Add the mozzarella, and gently toss again.
Let the salad rest for about 20 minutes for the flavors to blend before serving. (Feel free to drizzle the salad with a little extra olive oil and vinegar if you like.)
p.s. If you’d like to help the Orlando shooting victims and their families, here are a number of ways to do just that.
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