I don’t know where you live (okay, well some of you), but it is hot here. I mean 103F, heat advisories until 11pm hot. And hot weather + heavy food can be an unpleasant mix.
So I thought we ought to enjoy a light, chilled dinner when our friend Mark comes over.
Where should I seek inspiration for said meal? Sure, I’m into culinary learning opportunities, but I’m definitely not a Food Network fanatic. If there’s anyone whose recipes I’m occasionally inclined to replicate, it’s Ina Garten—aka Barefoot Contessa. I love her Greek spin on Panzanella (pahn-zah-NEHL-lah), which is traditionally an Italian bread salad made with onions, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, vinegar and seasonings and—oh yeah—chunks of bread. This fun Greek version includes feta and red onions, naturally.
Here’s the ironic outcome of the evening, I wanted to serve two cold, raw salads for dinner—which is fine for me, but likely insufficient for Andrew and our friend Mark. I hadn’t shopped for, or even thought up, any meat dish as of two hours before dinner. So I threw together an impromptu marinade for some chicken tenderloins: olive oil, kosher salt, plenty of fresh pepper, five cloves of crushed garlic, and dried oregano. Baked at 425F with the garlic on top. Sure enough, Andrew claims it’s the best chicken I’ve ever made (meaning it’s worth jotting down this recipe).
But now the third dish, which I must soon remake for my hubby’s parents because this is the fruit salad of fruit salads. And my mother-in-law is Queen of Fruit Salad. I ate the rest for breakfast this morning thinking, “Man, would Alice love this!”
Without further ado, here are the ingredients to a seriously delicious evening. (Little mess, little cooking—hurrah)!
- Good olive oil
- 1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
- Kosher salt
- 1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 1 red bell pepper, large diced
- 1 yellow bell pepper, large diced
- 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 red onion, sliced thin in half rounds
- 1/2 pound feta cheese, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
- 1/2 cup calamata olives, pitted
As unfortunate as it seems, you must first cut all the beautiful crust off your loaf of bread. I bought a Rosemary Boule, which worked wonderfully.
Day-old bread is ideal for this salad, and most white french loaves would work fine. Use your thumb (knuckle to nail) to approximate one-inch for the cubes. Better to have these a little on the large side.
Heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread cubes and sprinkle with salt. Cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 5 to 10 minutes, until nicely browned.
The cubes soak up the oil quickly, but don’t be tempted to add too much additional oil. It might be helpful to heat one or two tablespoons of the oil and add the rest gradually, while turning the cubes.
To de-seed the cucumbers, cut lengthwise and scoop down the middle with a small spoon. Place the cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, tomatoes and red onion in a large bowl. I used orange bell pepper as well, since I had some on hand and it added to the beautiful colors of the salad. I also sliced the onions paper thin, so the raw onion wasn’t too strong in the salad.
For the vinaigrette:
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup good olive oil
Whisk together the garlic (minced on your microplane!), oregano, mustard, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper in a small bowl.
While still whisking, add the olive oil and make an emulsion. Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables. This dressing is incredible for other salads, or even as a marinade.
Add the feta, olives (if you’re using them) and bread cubes and mix together lightly. I reserved 1/4 of the bread cubes for leftovers—though the point is for the bread to get a little soggy, I didn’t want my second-day salad that soggy.
Set everything aside for 30 minutes for the flavors to blend. Serve at room temperature.
The fruit salad of a lifetime
Oh it sounds dramatic, but it’s accurate. If you like sweet and salty, you will also go nuts over this pistachio salad. With the grapes, nuts, and seeds, it delightfully crunchy, too! I hope you like pistachios, because while you could substitute another nut here, the salty flavor of pistachios is delicious. If you read about my berry tart, you know I had some blueberries and strawberries on hand. This was a sweet way to enjoy the leftovers. (This recipe was developed by Sunny Anderson).
Fruit Salad with Poppy Seeds & Pistachios
- 1 cup halved green seedless grapes
- 1 cup quartered strawberries
- 1/2 cup blueberries
- 1 tablespoons sugar (or less for ripe, sweet fruit)
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
- 1 teaspoon poppy seeds (or less, as you prefer)
- 1/4 cup unsalted pistachios, toasted (mine were roasted and salted)
When Mark and I labored in a bakery together—which is how we met—we had plenty of minute and tedious tasks. I guess this is why Mark laughed aloud as he peered into the salad bowl and said, “You halved the grapes?!”
Do trust me, cut the grapes in half. (A large, sharp knife gets the job done without much trouble).
Toss the grapes, strawberries and blueberries with sugar in a medium bowl. Stir in lime juice, and poppy seeds. Let sit at room temperature for at least 1/2 an hour. Garnish with pistachios and serve.
I know I have tags on my posts for “easy” meals, but this doesn’t even belong there. I really need to have a simplicity ranking, because believe me: this belongs in the easiest possible delicious food category. And isn’t it a beauty?