Summer Salad of the Week: Greek Inspired Panzanella

It’s finally feeling like summer and that means the freshest veggies possible growing in our gardens and a wider variety available in stores. Perfect time for experimenting with every kind of scrumptious fresh salad you can imagine. So, along with other recipes and posts, I’m pledging to provide you all with an additional new and fresh salad recipe EVERY week of this summer to encourage us all to step up to the garden and put it on your plate!

This first week I’m inspired by  the lengendar “Barefoot Countessa” Ina Garten’s fresh and rustic take on the classic Italian Panzanella (bread) salad and substituting Greek ingredients. Of course I’ll add a couple of my own twists and a couple of tips to make things fresher and easier in your own home kitchen.

Now for the salad…Think of a slight bit of spice from pepperoncini peppers, giant yummy home made croutons, scattered with fresh cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers and topped with home-pickled red onions, kalamata olives and crumbly feta cheese. I literally couldn’t wait to dig in (and I didn’t want to share) when I made this beauty. I hope that you find a way to get this into your kitchen (and your belly) too! Are you ready to eat FRESH!? Let’s go!

Greek Inspired Panzanella Salad

For the Salad:

4 cups day old bread (french or any other sturdy bread is best), cut in 1 inch cubes (see TIP in Step 1 of directions)

1 whole English cucumber, peel on, cut in half inch cubes

3 cups cherry or grape tomatoes sliced in half

2 bell peppers (whatever color you like) chopped in one inch chunks

1/2 lb feta cheese, crumbled

3/4 cup sliced pepperoncini (a mild, golden Greek pickled pepper)

3/4 cup whole kalamata olives

For the pickled onion:

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1 TB granulated sugar

1 tsp sea salt

1 whole red onion, sliced in half and then sliced in thin strips

For the Vinaigrette:

1/2 cup light or extra virgin olive oil (depending on your taste)

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

2 cloves garlic, minced (or 1 tsp powdered)

2 tsp dried oregano

2 tsp dried basil leaves

2 tsp dried mustard or 1 tsp regular prepared Dijon or yellow mustard

1/2 tsp each of salt and sugar

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

juice of half a lemon

DIRECTIONS:

  1. For the croutons: Take the bread cubes and toss them lightly in olive oil and salt and then pan fry them lightly in a dry frying pan, tossing them continually until lightly browned. TIP: Every time you get to the end of a loaf of bread in your kitchen, don’t throw it away! Cut into large cubes and bake in low heat (200 C) in your oven for about 20 minutes until crunchy. Then save them for salads like this (no need to saute in the pan), or making breadcrumbs, etc. Much cheaper and healthier alternative to using store-bought croutons with preservatives. They can be stored in your freezer indefinitely or in an air-tight bag for several weeks because they are dehydrated.
  2. For the pickled onions: Mix the red wine vinegar, sugar and salt in a medium sized bowl until the salt and sugar have dissolved.  Then add the sliced onions and toss lightly every 5 or so minutes until they developed a quick pickle. I prefer this sweeter, gentler version to the bite of raw onions in traditional Greek salads. If you like a bit more of a bite, then skip this step.
  3. For the Vinaigrette: Mix basil, oregano, salt, sugar, pepper and mustard in a small bowl, add in olive oil and stir briskly until herbs are emulsified in the oil and then add in the vinegar and lemon juice. Let stand to allow flavors to infuse while constructing the rest of the salad.
  4. For the salad: Toss the cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes and onions (raw or pickled, according to your preference) and toss in a large bowl. Toss the vegetables in the vinaigrette until well coated.  Throw in bread cubes, olives and pepperoncinis and combine with the fresh veggie mixture until all elements are well distributed. Top with crumbled feta cheese and ENJOY!

Note: If (and that’s a BIG “if”) there are leftovers, place in the fridge and this salad holds up very well the second day. The flavors perhaps even combine and meld even better. Serves: 4 – 6 people as a side salad or 3 to 4 as a main course.  Time to prepare: 30 minutes (or less if you have pre-made, home- baked croutons)

 

 

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