I was thrilled to meet chef and author, Sheri Castle, at Barnhill's Books & Wine at her book signing for her The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers' Markets, Roadside Stands, & CSA Farm Boxes back in June. She read a wonderful excerpt from her book (below) and served up some Tomato Jam with cheese and crackers for the signing. Sheri's cookbook is 420 pages, four times that of the standard cookbook, filled with gorgeous photos of her simple flavorful, seasonal recipes.
"My mama was my grandmother, Madge Marie Reece Castle. She lived all her days way up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but she never turned down a chance to travel and get a look at what was out there. She was curious. She loved to laugh. She was my sanctuary.
Mama was one of those storybook southern women who could flat out cook and keep a garden. When she tied on her apron every morning, it was like Superman tying on his cape. Her huge garden was bordered by fruit trees, grapevines, and berry patches. The slap of the screen door as she headed out there was the starter pistol for her day. Like so many rural families of the time, the garden fed us. We ate all we could hold while it was fresh and she put up the rest to eat through the winter. She picked, preserved, and canned. Many summer days she didn't sit down once until she heard the last bright ping from a sealing Mason jar, her vesper bells. I didn't know that Mama was raising me on food rich with cultural heritage. I just thought it was supper."The tomatoes are ripe and they are many. Last night I made an adapted version of Sheri's panzanella, a.k.a "Tomato & Bread Salad" from her book. I "adapted" the recipe not because I think I can improve upon it, but because I rarely get everything I need from the store. I made the salad sans roasted peppers, but I think it would be better with them, so I don't recommend the omission. Also, I added sweet corn and cucumbers because I have so many from the (grandparents') garden. These were great additions, although I'd still mark them as "optional".
Note: for the resident vegetarian, I left off the grilled chicken, for the resident gluten-free dieter, I left off the bread. No dairy to worry about here.
Panzanella (Tomato & Bread Salad)
(copyright The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill)
4 c. 1-inch cubes Italian or French Bread
1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp capers, drained
3/4 Tsp dried Italian herb blend or dried oregano
2 large roasted red or yellow bell peppers or other sweet peppers, but in to thin strips (about 1 cup)
1 small sweet onion, halved lengthwise and cut into thin strips
3 C. diced tomatoes or halved miniature tomatoes
1 Tsp kosher salt
1 Tsp ground black pepper
1/2 C. lightly packed basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons
Makes 4-6 servings
1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
2) Spread the cubes of bread in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake until the cubes are crisp on the outside but tomatoes, salt, and still a little chewy on the inside, about 10 minutes; do not let the bread brown.
3) Whisk together the oil, vinegar, capers, dried herbs, peppers, onion, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes so that the tomatoes release a little juice.
4) Stir in the bread cubes and let sit for a bout 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally so that the bread can soak up some of the juice. The salad should be moist, but not so wet that the bread gets soggy. Add more oil, if needed.
5) Stir in the basil, check the seasoning, and serve soon. Leftovers might taste good the next day, but the salad won't look as appealing. The bread gets quite soft and the tomatoes languish in the refrigerator, so it's best to enjoy this salad the day it's made.
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