Oh, summer. You are an expert wooer. Just the minute I want to hate you, while I’m pushing up another hill on my bicycle, sweat dripping down my neck while I slap a bug off my face, you hit me with a gorgeous sunset over wildflowers, the kind that makes me pull my massive camera out of my backpack, right there on the trail, while I literally gasp out loud.
You know just how to do it. Alongside a sticky night, in sidles a conversation about scraping snow off your cars. Just after a crazy rainstorm, there’s a farmers market packed with produce. On a lazy Saturday afternoon at home, you have me roasting grape tomatoes from a local farm.
There are those who hate you, Summer, those who are immune to all your charms, who—very fairly—cite heat and humidity and insects and all that comes with those things, from big hair to body odor to incessant scratching of ankles, and I listen to them, I do, but look, between you and me: it doesn’t matter.
Because for me, it all comes down to this: There’s nothing better than your fruit and vegetables. Not winter’s celery root. Not spring’s asparagus. I like those things, but man, I love your bounty, the way the stalls overflow with colors and smells on weekend mornings.
I love, for example, that your tomatoes taste so much better than January’s. I love the way they look, sliced, with juice dripping onto a plate. And now I love them roasted, maybe more than any other way, when they are shriveled and darkened, crispy around the edges and shooting hot juice into my mouth when I bite inside.
Roasted tomatoes are good by themselves, good in omelettes, good in random panzanella salads whipped up in the afternoon. I made them this weekend, just before stepping outside, and Summer, good timing, OK? I have to hand it to you. Pretty slick offering roasted tomatoes just before a swarm of mosquitoes. Well. Played.
This panzanella is nothing difficult, just the compilation of what I had on hand. It starts with fresh grape tomatoes, of course, sliced and roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper for just under an hour at 350 degrees.
The tomatoes combine with some greens (I used romaine), thick hunks of mozzarella, chopped basil and diced pieces of thick toasted sourdough bread in a bowl. Tossed with olive oil and balsamic and let to sit a minute, the toasted bread can really soak in the tomato and dressing juices, and maaaaan.
One big bite of this panzanella is delicious, irresistible, fresh and fragrant. In other words, it’s you, Summer, all you, and that is a very good thing indeed.
Simple Summer Panzanella
This is one of those recipes with a lot of estimations, but the key really is to add more of what you like, less of what you don’t and improvise. My favorite part of this whole salad was the bread cubes, so next time I might do 1.5 or even 2 slices of bread. When they get good and mixed with the salad, they’re crispy yet soft and chewy.
for roasted tomatoes:
Grape tomatoes (I used two containers from the market, enough to fill a baking sheet)
Salt and pepper
1 big slice of crusty bread (like sourdough)
Romaine lettuce, washed
8 ounces high-quality mozzarella, sliced
A couple fresh basil leaves, chopped
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar, for dressing
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Begin by roasting the grape tomatoes and toasting the bread: wash and slice the tomatoes all in half, lay them cut-side up on a baking sheet, sprinkle with olive oil and salt and pepper; bake for 50 to 60 minutes. In the last 10 to 20 minutes, add a thick piece of bread (I like sourdough) to the oven and get it nice and golden. Chop bread into cubes.
In a big bowl, combine romaine, mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, sourdough cubes and basil with the oil and vinegar. Let sit for 10 minutes or so, letting the dressing and tomato juices soak into the bread. Enjoy!