Summer’s End Panzanella Salad


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Impromptu dinner parties are the best sort of dinner parties. It was six o’clock on a week night and my family was heading over for dinner and all I had was the same old chicken. I had a plan for the chicken. I knew I wanted to make my aunt’s famous Chicken Murphy. (Frankly, there are too many recipes for Chicken Murphy but her version is super simple, involving only chicken cutlets, mushrooms, mozzarella cheese and chicken broth.) But with this fairly simple entree, I wanted to make an out of the ordinary side dish.

Enter Deb at Smitten Kitchen. She orchestrated a lovely panzanella salad to celebrate the end of summer goodness that is fresh tomatoes and red peppers. I happened to have a big loaf of french bread and a wide variety of fresh farm vegetables – tons of tomatoes, including those gooey ‘second’ tomatoes that my farm gives away for free to those who can use them, piles of red onions that I sliced into thin half-moons, crisp cucumbers and shiny red peppers cut into big chunks.

My fridge held a little glass jar of briny capers and a tub of little, milky mozzarella bites, while my windowsill held three perky basil plants. I gently frying the french bread cubes until golden and then tumbled all the ingredients into a broad clay bowl. In a glass jar with a lid, I shook up the dressing, pouring it all over the colorful mess. After letting everything soak for 30 minutes, this perfection emerged. It was a perfect mess, a bright-hued pile of perfection that tasted fresh, filling and tangy. Actually, the whole meal was perfection, thanks to Deb and my favorite aunt.

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