breakfast, brunch, mains, salads

greek panzanella salad + a new series: farmers’ market mondays.

It seems as though there’s a general theme out there right now with my fellow baking (and cooking, sometimes) bloggers: we feel poofy. We could lose a few pounds. We need to eat better. And isn’t that like, exactly what happens to everyone around this time of year, right? It’s warmer, winter’s officially over, some of us are scheduling our summer vacations and thinking “holy, crap; I have to actually wear that swimsuit in public at some point.” And I have an almost-2-year-old. What does that mean? You guessed it; more photos than some countries allow anytime she’s in close proximity to my mother. What it also means is that when my wee one is photographed, she is often photographed with her mother’s thighs in the frame. *sigh*

I’m right there in the feelin’ pudgy boat with you. A friend of mine calls it their “winter coat” of extra weight which seems to accumulate gradually over the cooler months. I know what my issue is: you’re looking at it. Not this gorgeous salad, silly; this whole entire blog. It is sugar-filled and sprinkle-laden, and guess what; it all sits here at my house, staring at me. And when you return from shopping and realize that on your way to put away groceries, you’ve passed 50 confetti cookies, a birthday cake, and a batch of cornflake chocolate chip + marshmallow cookies you whipped up because a reader recently had an issue with them so you made them just to see if you still could, you know you have big problems.

Once again, as is typically the case this time of year, I need to switch up my eating habits to eliminate cake as a viable breakfast or lunch option. I need to remember that “taste-testing” doesn’t equal “no calories.” It’s spring: farmers’ markets are in full bloom and stocked to the hilt with fresh, gorgeous produce, and I happen to love fruits and vegetables and fresh, non-butter-filled things. So: as a weekly reminder to myself, and because I like sharing things with you people, I’m starting a new summer vacation series. We’ll call it Farmers’ Market Mondays, and I’ll be challenging myself to make you salads and other fresh things using only items I find at my local farmers’ market the previous weekend.

There will be times I need to add things I didn’t just purchase; dried herbs, for instance, and probably some dressing ingredients like olive oil, etc, which I keep at home. But the vast majority of the ingredients will be directly from the farm to my table, and from my table to this blog. We have some fantastic local stuff around here too which you may not be able to get in your areas, but there will always be close substitutions given for it. For instance, I’m using one of Companion’s craft breads, the rustic olive loaf this week in my salad, but any dense bread (and if you can find one with kalamata olives in it, bonus!) will do.

And fear not: you’ll still all the weird, sugary craziness you’re used to from me. This will be an extra, if you will; an added post every week. Some may be short and sweet, some may be filled with market adventures, but you’ll always get something fresh and easy.

First up: quite possibly the love of my salad life, the greek panzanella. If you love greek salad and big fat homemade croutons, this one will be like heaven on a plate. And by all means: if you’re worried the bread is too much, this is delicious with only the veggies as well. It’s a mashup of sorts: The salad recipe itself is an Ina Garten one, but I felt like the dressing which accompanied it needed a little more “oomph.” Enter Mr. Andrew Carmellini, my  recently-appointed King of the Salad.

Why does Mr. Carmellini get such an auspicious title? Because he deserves it. So far, I’ve made both his cole slaw and his smoked potato salad from the American Flavor cookbook. They have been awesome. Perception-altering, flavor-bursting works of salad art. I was beside myself with both of them, and it was in large part due to the flavor combinations in his dressings for each. They’re not abnormal, but you can taste in a very real way the care he takes in assembling just exactly the right ingredients for his sauces. They’re not just an afterthought for him: they’re what makes or breaks the dish. And he makes it every single time. It’s like taking an extremely classic, recognizable thing, and then making it 20 times more magnificent than the best version of if you’ve ever had.

I hope he doesn’t mind the title, or my intense love of his salad creations. It’ll be awkward if he calls and is all “hey, restraining order,” and i’m all “whoops, my bad, I just like you” about it.

I knew the greek dressing, also found in American Flavor, would not let me down. And it didn’t. I’m very picky about salad dressings; not picky in the way that I don’t like most of them, but rather in the way that to love it, to really crave it repeatedly, I need it to be SO RIGHT ON. Happily, this dressing meets and (exceeds) that criteria.

First, it’s incredibly easy to make: I didn’t have to buy one thing from the market but limes and shallots: I had the rest here. You measure it out, whiz it up, and chill it down until you’re ready to use it. I used my chill time to chop my veggies and toast my croutons.

This salad is completely customizable. Too much bread? Leave the croutons out, or only use a few. It will be less “panzanella” and more “salad,” but it’ll still taste great. You don’t like on of the veggies listed, or have a favorite you’d like to include? Go right ahead and add or subtract as needed. Don’t love feta cheese as much as I do? Substitute chunked-up parmesan or asiago cheese. The beauty of salads is that you can throw in exactly what you want, slap some dressing on it, and have a fabulous  meal.

I find that assembling a panzanella-style salad works best when you do things in a specific order. it’s a fresh crouton thing; they tend to absorb dressing quickly, especially if it’s poured directly onto them. How I do it is to simply gather all your chopped up veggies in a bowl, add the desired amount of dressing, and toss. Add your cheese (if using), and toss again. Finally, add your big fat croutons, swirling them around inside your salad until everything is evenly covered. Throw on to a plate, and serve.

Sometimes, if I’m making this for a group and not just myself, I’ll toss everything but the bread in the dressing and then add the croutons immediately before serving; it helps keep their crunchiness and their structure intact.

Happy first Farmers’ Market Monday!

Salad/veggie part adapted from How Easy Is That? Fabulous Recipes and Easy Tips by Ina Garten. Greek dressing adapted from American Flavor by Andrew Carmellini.

Greek Panzanella Salad

for the dressing:

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 small shallots, diced small (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 clove garlic, diced small (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • Juice of 2-3 limes (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt (I used Fage 0% because it’s thick and works well)

for the salad:

  • At least 1/2 cup or more of good olive oil
  • good rustic bread (I used Companion Bread’s Rustic Olive Loaf), rough-diced into 1-inch cubes
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and large-diced
  • 1 orange or yellow bell pepper, seeded and large-diced
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 a small red onion (and use as much or as little as you want, red onion can be strong) thinly sliced in half-rounds
  • 1/2 pound good feta (or parmesan) cheese, 3/4 inch diced*
  • 1/2 cup (or more, if you prefer) kalamata olives, pitted
*note: if you’re using parmesan instead of feta, you don’t have to dice it. take a narrow, pointy knife and stick it vertically into your cheese, chunking off smallish bits of it by pulling your knife away from the cheese. it’s pretty and rustic-looking; not meant to be perfect.
making the dressing:

Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over low heat.

Add the shallots and let them cook for a minute or so, until they just start to soften. Add the garlic to the saucepan and cook the mixture for another minute, until the garlic softens up and releases its aroma. Remember: burned garlic is gross garlic, so watch you pan carefully and don’t let it overcook and stir constantly.

Pull the pan off the heat and stir in the coriander, fennel, cumin, red pepper flakes, and oregano. Add the mustard and stir everything together well. Scrape the mixture into a small mixing bowl. It should smell fantastic – a mustardy, spicy, garlicky mix.

Add the lime juice, yogurt, and 1/4 cup of water (or slightly less, depending on how thick you want it), and whisk everything together well. If you want to, throw the mixture into a food processor and whiz it all up together: Ifound this made mine slightly thicker because it emulsified the olive oil and it eliminated any chunks I had from my sub-par dicing skills. Put the dressing in the fridge to cool it down before serving it. The dressing will keep in your fridge for around 4 days. I suggest storing it in a glass jar (as shown above) so you can easily shake before serving. And it looks nice.

moving on to the salad:

Preheat oven to 400˚F.

Toss your cubed bread into a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil (don’t drown it; drizzle is the operative word there) and mix with hands or a large spoon until evenly coated. Add a little kosher salt and ground pepper to the mix, stir again, and spread out onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake in the oven for around 15 minutes, tossing around once at the 10-minute mark. The timing on this is very bread-dependent: after that 10-minute toss, check your bread/toss your bread every five minutes until it has reached desired doneness.

Place the cucumber, bell peppers, tomatoes, red onions, and olives in a large bowl and toss together. Add the desired amount of dressing and toss lightly until evenly coated. Add cheese and toss again. Add your cooled (they can be slightly warm, it’s ok) croutons and toss again until dressing is evenly incorporated. Season to taste with kosher or sea salt and ground pepper and serve.

I would say this makes 2-3 good-sized meal salads, and a lot of that is based on how much bread you use or if you’re using it at all; it gives the salad its volume. If you’re not using the bread in the salad, you may want to up your veggie use.

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  • Reply Jen @ Juanita's Cocina April 30, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    I’ve got about 5 pounds of fluff that have suddenly appeared. I’m trying to lie to myself and tell myself that it has nothing to do with all of the food I’ve been whipping up lately. I’m hoping no one corrects me.

    This looks like the bomb diggity.

    I went on a veggie run myself today. I got purple cauliflower. That’s right. Purple. I wonder what “purple” tastes like. I’m hoping like Trix or something, because I don’t really like cauliflower. Which doesn’t really explain why I bought it. I got the orange one too, by the way. For purely aesthetic purposes.

    Also, I pinned this because I’m going to eat it like a champ.

    • Reply shannon April 30, 2012 at 9:12 pm

      see, ugh SEE! Jen, this is what i’m talking about: i also have 5-7 lbs of extra fluff and it totally snuck up on me. i expect this sort of fluff-tastrophe in like, january. But I have it happening NOW. Crisis. i’m sure it doesn’t have anything to do with all those goodies you’ve been making…noooooo…nah…surely not….no. 🙂

      it WAS the bomb diggity! i can’t say enough about this dressing or the veggie combo it has kicking. and i felt full, and i didn’t want to go eat cake (much) after. Unless Texas deals in hybrid Trixiflower (maybe?), your purple and orange cauliflower probably tastes like ours does, meaning…like cauliflower. Although it’s fun to imagine.

      Mr. Table didn’t ever like cauliflower. brushed it aside every chance he got. until i blanched it, then threw it into a casserole dish to roast up with some freshly grated parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper flakes. a little salt and pepper, some roasty oven time, et voila: favorite vegetable.

      aw…you pinned this! i’m in the process of getting caught up with my blog so i can get back to the important things in life; like Pinterest with you this summer. YES!

      • Reply Jen @ Juanita's Cocina May 1, 2012 at 5:40 am

        EXACTLY! I made it through the Christmas holiday and everything fluff-free and then BAM! 5 extra pounds. Obviously, it’s happening to all of the cool kids.

        I was looking for something to do with my purple Naughty-flower (which is what I now call it), and I’m totally going to try your recipe. Any oil while you roast? Or is the blanching enough?

        Also, send me your pinterest link. So, I can follow you and all.

        • Reply shannon May 1, 2012 at 6:23 am

          Jen, i’m shooting you an email later today with pinterest and food ideas – i’ll send you that naughty-flower (um, LOVE that) recipe and i remembered another one i made and loved which involves goat cheese; it’s a bobby flay one and it’s one of my “i did it for the blog and then got behind” ones…really delicious. and you could always sub another cheese for it if you don’t like goat cheese, too.

          i think i made it threw christmas and then somehow thought i was invincible. like Superwoman. like no pounds could touch me. um…whoops. i think, on a baking day, if i wrote down how much “taste-testing” goes into my mouth, i would be beside myself with horror. so here’s to you and me working off our collective fluff. 🙂 we’ll do it.

  • Reply elizabeth April 30, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    Confession: I can’t eat a huge, large salad as a meal. I love a good side salad, I can eat a vegetable-laden pasta salad, but the big, entree-size salads do not do it for me. But this does look beautiful. And I should get over my salad-as-dinner-aversion with this, pronto.

    • Reply shannon April 30, 2012 at 9:05 pm

      confession back: I have a hard time with it too, depending on the salad. lettuce-and-veggie-only ones that don’t have that “hearty” factor to them leave me wanting a side of say, cereal immediately after i eat it. And that’s counterproductive. So i try to make salads i think will satisfy that part of me; this one felt like a meal, and i credit the bread. there’s a lot of chewing involved, and a lot of crunch as well. you let me know if this passes the dinner test for you. 🙂

  • Reply Willow April 30, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    Whoa boy… I’ve got more than a little of that ‘winter coat’ myself. Not to mention I keep having people give me the ‘no, you look great!’ thing, which every once and a while convinces me that there isn’t an issue, which just makes more of an issue. :/

    Fortunately, I also LOVE salads, and have a wonderful farmers market nearby! I’ve never tried any of Carmellini’s recipes before, but will have to give his dressings a go – I’m a big fan of Greek salads, and this one in particular sounds wonderful!

    • Reply shannon April 30, 2012 at 9:01 pm

      willow, you are singing my song; i also have the people who keep saying “no, you look great!” and although it’s nice, it does bring on moments where you think the scale is evidently incorrect. and you’re right: it just makes it more of an issue. it’s like, if the jeans still “fit,” you can justify there not being an issue. i’m totally right there with you.

      i love salads too! and you’d never know it, but in real life i crave like, brussels sprouts. 🙂 if you love greek salads, definitely give this one, and especially this dressing, a try. It’s really amazing, and i had some more for dinner tonight, just over some cut up veggies. It’s the dressing which will never leave my fridge because i’ll constantly be making new batches. 🙂 i wish you good luck at the farmers’ market!

  • Reply Brianne May 1, 2012 at 6:27 am

    That dressing sounds DIVINE. Yay for farmer’s market Mondays! Can’t wait for more of this series.

    • Reply shannon May 1, 2012 at 8:50 pm

      I knew you’d appreciate it: you’re awesome with your bloggy food choices, and i bet you have just GOBS of produce to choose from up there (or that’s how i imagine it). Seriously, the dressing? i could just dip bread in it, or just my face. it’s THAT kind of amazing. i’ve just thrown it on random cut-up veggies for the past few days now, and it makes everything seem so much more delicious. Farmers’ Market Mondays should be a fun challenge; i’m looking forward to seeing what i can make as the seasons roll on.

  • Reply Jennie @themessybakerblog May 1, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    Shannon, this salad looks amazing. Homemade dressing- Yum!

  • Reply movita beaucoup May 6, 2012 at 4:37 am

    I love Farmers’ Market Mondays!! Yippie!!

    Also, my idea of summery heaven is a huge, chopped veggie salad. So fresh. So satisfying. And, because life is best when lived with a side of moderation, a nice excuse to have a lovely dessert. All those veggies cancel out the whipped cream on strawberry shortcakes, for example.

    I haven’t tried adding croutons to my summery salad. And now I’m thinking I might have to give ’em a try… And that dressing sounds divine. I’m loving the combination of seasonings!


    • Reply shannon May 6, 2012 at 4:18 pm

      me too! it’s giving me a reason to make actual food for a change.

      i love big veggie salads in the summer, i agree. I normally have a bunch of different things ready to go in containers and i throw (literally, at times, throw) them all on a plate, mix them up, and drizzle them with a light dressing or lemon squeeze or something. i’ve gotten away from that (thanks, WINTER MONTHS) and i’m happy as anything to get back to it.

      I’ve calculated it, and for every 4 ounces of veggies eaten, you can have 1 regular-sized cookie or small cake/brownie, and the calories from said cookie/cake are absorbed by some sort of triple-osmosis-chlorophyl thing in the vegetables. I just dropped some science.

      I only add croutons when i make them myself; not much for store-bought, because i don’t always see the point. I made this salad sans croutons the next day (um…i “ran out”) and it was just as delicious. I’m on my third batch of the dressing; turns out i can’t find a vegetable it tastes bad with. Still researching.

  • Reply Shalee June 7, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    I’m going to make this next weekend but I think instead of making it with bread I’m going to add some red papa’s. The dressing sounds amazing!

    • Reply shannon June 7, 2012 at 4:16 pm

      the dressing is so good; i think i’ve made about 5 batches so far this spring/summer, and i throw it on everything from greens to random veggies. i can’t find anything it’s not good on. 🙂 let me know how your version goes!

      • Reply Shalee June 18, 2012 at 12:54 pm

        I made it with red papa’s this weekend and it was a big hit! I didn’t add the fennel to the dressing because I just loathe it but it still came out wonderful. Rreally refreshing. Putting the dressing in the blender was a great idea. I didn’t add the water becasue I wanted it to be a little thick and it was perfect. Thanks so much!

        • Reply shannon June 19, 2012 at 3:43 pm

          shalee, now i’m going to have to try that! i’m so happy everyone enjoyed it! and i always think that if you know you don’t like something ahead of time, it’s best not to use it. fennel is definitely a strong flavor, and you either like it or you don’t. like cilantro. and you wouldn’t want to ruin it for yourself over one ingredient. you’re welcome so much! and thanks for letting me know how your version went; i love hearing how people use my recipes. 🙂

  • Reply Shalee June 7, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    Hey do you have a printer friendly option that I”m not seeing?

    • Reply shannon June 7, 2012 at 4:11 pm

      hi, shalee! oh i’m so sorry; no print option you’re not seeing. i had one testing on the blog at one point, but it wasn’t working correctly and is still on my “to do” list to get fixed. If you’d like, i would happily email you a text version; let me know.

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