ALL HAIL ZUCCHINI!
Nah, not really. Like most of the rest of you gardeners out there, I’ve got a surfeit of zucchini. And that sneaky Zucchini Fairy is very active at this time of the year, leaving torpedo-sized zucchinis in the lunchroom at work, on my doorstep, atop my mailbox... stop with the zucchini already! The horn of plenty is now officially the Horn of Too Much. But keep reading—this post isn't about zucchini.
So forget the zucchini. How about those tomatoes? Everyone I know has had issues with a small tomato crop this year (lots of flowers, less fruit; we see a lack of bees, unfortunately). And I have far fewer than usual. But those that I have (Pssst! Sweet Millions, a delicious cherry tomato) are unbelievably tasty. I pick a single cherry tomato each time I walk through the yard, taking a moment to savor its sun-warmed goodness.
Basil, peppers, cukes, everything is busting out at once. If you have a garden, it runneth over. If you don’t, find a farmer’s market. Eating local is a good thing, when you can do it: it supports your neighbors, and you’re assured of ultra-fresh veggies and fruit. Up here in northern New England, eating local in February means potatoes and squash and maybe some apples. But right now—umm-UMM, love that butter-and-sugar sweet corn!
The following three recipes combine some of our favorite artisan breads with bounty from the garden. Bread is a tasty vehicle here: it's a base for bruschetta toppings; and in panzanella and fattoush, it soaks up tomato juice and olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar. So, with all of those garden-fresh goodies out there—what are we waiting for?!
FATTOUSH (scroll down for Panzanella and Bruschetta)
Cut the pita into wedges. Don't open it into a pocket and separate; just cut the whole thing. If you want the salad to hold longer, oven-toast the wedges till crisp, as shown here. If you plan on making the salad, and then adding the pita just before serving, there's no need to toast it; it'll stay nice and chewy for at least 30 minutes, plenty of time to serve.
Chop the veggies; dress with the oil and lemon juice; toss with the herbs. You can make the salad ahead up to this point, if you like. How long will it keep? Well, you know salads, the fresher the better. But covered and chilled, it should stay good and crisp for a few hours anyway.
Panzanella (scroll down for Bruschetta)
Next, let's make Panzanella. As the name indicates, it's an Italian salad, one dating back to at least the 1500s. You'll see the ingredients reflect its provenance, too. Panzanella is a great way to use up leftover bread and August's super-abundance of fresh garden vegetables.
I'm starting out with scali bread here. If you don't like the idea of sesame seeds in your salad, simply make scali without the seeds. Or use a different bread, such as the Tuscan bread you'll find with the panzanella recipe on our recipe site.
Next, the dressing. Red wine vinegar, olive oil, capers, garlic, and... anchovies? Don't tell me you don't like anchovies?! Can you make this dressing without them? Yes, of course you can. But once they're made into dressing and tossed with veggies and bread, they really do lose a lot of their fishiness, lending instead a delightful, pretty much unidentifiable savoriness.
Now bruschetta, which is simply oven-toasted slices of French or Italian bread spread or layered with your choice of savory toppings. Here we've used goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and pesto; garlicky hummus garnished with parsley; and slices of mozzarella topped with tomato salad.
And the bread: Use baguettes, or another light-textured country-style artisan loaf.
You can make the bread part of bruschetta long and skinny (from a diagonally sliced baguette, oval ciabatta, or other country loaf); big and round, from a typical Italian loaf; small and round, from a baguette; or something in between, as we did by cutting these ciabatta slices in half crosswise, to make smaller bruschetta.
This wonderful, non-traditional hummus couldn't be simpler or more delicious. It includes just five ingredients: garbanzos (chickpeas), garlic, olive oil, salt, and cumin.
First, process a 15-ounce can of drained chickpeas (garbanzos) with 3/4 to 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and as many peeled garlic cloves as you like. I usually like about six big cloves for this amount of beans; but I REALLY like garlic. You might want to tone it down some.
Now for the rest of the toppings: garlic and basil for pesto; and tomatoes for tomato salad. I bought some parsley, too, but ended up using it only as a garnish for the hummus. Be aware, though, that you can make a delicious (and usually less expensive) pesto using Italian flat-leaf parsley instead of basil.
Last topping: tomato salad, a simple mixture of tomatoes, dried herbs, salt, sugar, pepper, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Start with a pound of tomatoes. Cut them in 1/2” cubes, more or less; cut in half, then cut each half crosswise in half again.
This is a seat-of-the-pants recipe, something my grandma-in-law made but never wrote down. I usually make it by tasting, but here's a start: For each pound of diced tomatoes (about 2 1/4 cups), stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, 1 tablespoon olive oil, a heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt, a sprinkle of coarsely ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon balsamic or red wine vinegar, and 1/2 teaspoon dried basil or mixed dried herbs. Let marinate for several hours at room temperature before serving.
At last! You've got all the toppings ready, and it's time to put together your bruschetta. Use your imagination; pair different cheeses and vegetables and spreads to come up with your own favorite combinations. My toppings here are (l to r) goat cheese topped with sun-dried tomato and pesto; hummus garnished with fresh parsley; and sliced mozzarella topped with tomato salad.
Read, review, and rate (please!) our recipe for Fattoush.
Read, review, and rate (please!) our recipe for Panzanella.
Read, review, and rate (please!) our recipe for Simple Hummus.
Read, review, and rate (please!) our recipe for Pesto.
Buy vs. Bake
Buy: Fattoush Restaurant, Chicago: Small order fattoush (“the King of Salads”), $6.25
Make at home: Fattoush
Salad course serving, $1.20
Entrée serving, $1.92
Buy: Panzanella Ristorante, Los Angeles: Panzanella (bread salad with tomato, cucumber, basil, onion, and extra-virgin olive oil), $12.95
Buy: Panzanella, Carrboro, N.C.: Panzanella Salad, with marinated tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, balsamic vinaigrette and artisanal bread, $6.00
Make at home: Panzanella salad, made with homemade toasted croutons, cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet red onion, bell pepper, and romaine lettuce, tossed with an anchovy/caper/olive oil dressing. First course serving, 99¢
Entrée serving, $1.98
Buy: Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano, Bloomington, Ill., lunch menu: Bruschetta Classico, oven-toasted Italian bread topped with plum tomatoes, sweet basil, garlic, fresh mozzarella and a touch of balsamic vinegar, $6.99
Make at home: Bruschetta with fresh tomato salad and fresh mozzarella, two 5” pieces, $1.68