With a little less than a week to spare before the official end of summer, here’s one last indulgence with what I consider summer’s savory candy. Promise me you’ll use homegrown or locally grown tomatoes for this modified version of the beloved Italian Panzanella salad. I know there are still a lot of them out there. The ones whose skin is just barely keeping together the juicy inside sweet flesh.
Panzanella is typically made with stale peasant style bread ripped or cut into pieces. My version toasts olive oil drizzled bread chunks and then folds them together with the traditional ingredients – ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced sweet onion, torn fresh basil leaves, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The addition of chunks of fresh milky mozzarella cheese and bite size slices of herb coated grilled flank steak or chicken make this more than a side dish. It’s a one-dish dinner and that is definitely a reason to celebrate the inevitable turn in the season.
For many parents, kids going back to school is the official reminder that summer has ended. Mine are no longer school age, but having recently learned from a good friend of mine of a very worthwhile organization that helps school age children fight weekend hunger, it has new meaning for me. Read on after my recipe to learn more about it and how you can help.
- 3 ripe tomatoes (about 1-1/2 pounds), preferably Heirloom or locally grown, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into about 1-inch chunks
- ½ cup fresh basil leaves, torn if large
- ⅓ cup very thinly sliced sweet white onion
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons balsamic or red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Several grind fresh ground black pepper
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- 3 cups about 1-inch chunks of artisan bread
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ¾ pound flank steak (ask meat department to cut a piece this size) or chicken breast
- 1 tablespoon chopped thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary leaves
- Put tomatoes, mozzarella, onion and basil in a bowl. Whisk together olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes; pour over tomatoes and gently stir to coat evenly. Allow sitting while preparing the rest of the salad. Taste and season with additional salt, if needed.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Toss bread with 2 tablespoon olive oil; bake just until crispy and light brown, about 10 minutes; remove and allow cooling to room temperature. Fold into tomatoes.
- Preheat grill or broiler to medium heat. Season flank steak with salt, pepper, thyme and rosemary, patting so herbs adhere to flesh. Herb side down first, grill flank steak 5 minutes. Turn and cook until desired doneness (about 5-7 minutes longer for a 1-inch thick steak for medium rare). Remove from grill and allow resting 10 minutes. Cut flank steak in half with the grain of the meat (so the length of slices, cut across the grain, will be more bite sized), then cut into thin slices across the grain of the meat.
- Serve sliced flank steak on top of Panzanella salad or gently stirred into tomatoes and bread.
Homeless Schoolchildren and Hunger
More than a third of the 52,000 children attending Seattle Public Schools qualify for free lunches and 2,300 of them are homeless. For the homeless kids, time away from school and the hot meals they receive there can be especially hard. To curb weekend hunger for the homeless Seattle school children, a nonprofit called Backpack Brigade, in partnership with the YWCA Central Area Food Bank, procures food and packs it into bags that are discreetly distributed by school counselors each Friday afternoon. In addition, Backpack Brigade stocks pantry boxes at three area high schools. Altogether 375 homeless students in nine central area schools will be supported this academic year.
If you would like to donate, volunteer, or learn more, please visit www.backpackbrigade.org.