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Panzanella Salad

I love our community!  My daughter’s elementary school, Tremont Elementary in Upper Arlington, Ohio has created a lovely vegetable garden just off the side of the school.  Two of Tremont’s third grade teachers, Pam Bergen and Michelle Persichetti, were awarded a mini grant in 2010 and got to work building it.  It has now grown to include 8 beds, 2 cold frames, a compost area and some harvesting tables.  Tremont students have helped to create it and help maintain it throughout the school year; some teachers even have their classes run math calculations and weather experiments using the garden. Together with their teachers, students grow onions, lettuces, strawberries, squash, bell and hot peppers, and a large variety of tomatoes and herbs.  Excess produce is delivered to the Heart to Heart Pantry, a choice food pantry and mission of First Community Church.

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During the summer, Tremont families are asked to volunteer to sign up for a week to help tend to the garden — watering, planting, harvesting, weeding etc.  I signed my family up for the week of August 5-11 because it fit into our schedule.  It didn’t take long to realize quickly that an August week was ideal because we got to bring home a large sampling of some of the ripe produce.  August is tomato time!  Tomatoes were plentiful and we brought home at least 5 varieties of tomatoes.   We had tomatoes in every color possible.  The first night we gave a good hearted effort at fried green tomatoes.  While they were fun to make, the tomatoes that we used were probably a little too ripe for a classic fried green tomato preparation (stay tuned to the blog because I am determined to come up with an excellent fried green tomato preparation).  The second night we were having dinner with our extended family so I put together a big Panzanella salad….a great way to put those gorgeous, colorful tomatoes to use in a natural simple way.  Panzanella salad is an old Italian salad which consists traditionally of onion, tomatoes and stale bread dressed simply with oil and vinegar.  Simple goodness…often times the best way to enjoy really good quality produce.

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Panzanella Salad (Serves 6-8)

Ingredients:

4-5 cups vine ripened tomatoes (a variety is nice), cut into large chunks or wedges

1 loaf Italian or Ciabatta bread, cubed (best if a little old, stale or dried out)

½ medium red onion, thinly sliced

¼ cup red wine vinegar

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp minced garlic (bottled works fine)

lots of fresh basil, torn into large pieces

salt and fresh ground black pepper

4-6 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into chunks (or chunks of feta cheese)

Optional Ingredients (I’d add one or two of these if you want but not all of them…let the tomatoes be the main ingredient): large chunks of cucumber, avocado, red, yellow or orange peppers, garbanzo beans, kalamata olives, capers.

Directions:

In a small bowl or mason jar, mix olive oil, red wine vinegar and garlic.  In large salad bowl, mix tomatoes, onion, and cheese (and other optional ingredients).  Pour the dressing over the salad and let sit for 30 minutes.  Just before serving add fresh basil and salt and fresh ground pepper.  Toss to combine.  This is a delicious side dish to a grilled steak or pork tenderloin.

*The day after I made this salad, I wanted to have it again for lunch.  I had all of the veggies but no bread.  I used big garlic and butter croutons and it was delicious (just a suggestion in a pinch if you don’t have bread on hand).