A Recipe for a Sweet Summer Night: Cornbread Panzanella Salad

I love to cook and bake and mess around in the kitchen, but sometimes my weeknight dinners for one are lacking. And I don’t just mean lacking a dining companion. I mean lacking in ease, taste, and inspiration.  Many recipes, particularly for main dishes, result in amounts that could easily serve eight to ten. For a family of four, that might mean an extra set of leftovers for lunch or dinner. However, a party of one can be swimming in the remains of a recipe for days. Even my favorite standbys can leave me with an overwhelming taste of “No thank you, no more.” Yes, I know there are ways to half a recipe, freeze extras, and combine leftovers with new ingredients to make a new dish, but still.

Tonight, I finally tried a recipe I’ve had my eye on for a while. It contains a lot of my standard requirements: easy to prepare, fun to make, friendly for fridge leftovers, uses easy to acquire ingredients, and it has a seasonal twist. It also comes from my favorite “celebrity chef” Giada De Laurentiis. In my days of programmed television viewing, I regularly watched her cooking shows. I admire her methods and her use of fresh and simple ingredients. She tends to write simple-to-prepare recipes, which I love. Several of her cookbooks fill my shelves and I even have some of her cooking shows on DVD. When I’m feeling the need for comfort or cooking, I will play one of her DVDs in the living room, turned up high, while I spin my own domestic bliss in the kitchen.

According to Giada (we are on a first name basis in my imagination), panzanella salad is a traditional Tuscan salad often using day old bread like ciabatta. I found the recipe in her cookbook, Everyday Pasta, but she provides a slightly different version here. She often has a spin for an Italian dish and here she uses leftover cornbread as the basis for the salad. I’ve written about my love for cornbread and leftovers. Usually, though, leftover cornbread is not an issue. If I am to have leftover cornbread, it means there is an intention to bake extra for things like cornbread dressing or to freeze some for later use. A couple of weeks ago, we had a drop in temperature and so I quickly fired up the oven for a double batch of cornbread. The first batch was devoured in the usual two or three days. The other batch, I left out on the counter so the dry Colorado air could do its trick.

I had the beginnings of cornbread croutons and the start to this meal. Combined with a fresh cucumber and ripe tomatoes from the farmers’ market and I was all set for tonight. I did spring for some fontina cheese on my way home from work, but otherwise, I had everything I needed for the recipe. Oops, except for the fresh basil. No basil on hand, so I substituted some dried herbs, playing it fast and loose with a little oregano, thyme, rosemary, and sage. I sat out on the patio and enjoyed it as a mostly one-dish meal with a side of salad greens and a beer.

When I try a new recipe, I hope for it to become a new favorite, a new staple. I tend to gravitate to recipes including ingredients I regularly buy or already have in my cupboards. Sometimes this means I get in a food rut. So I love when a new recipe, while calling for my usual ingredients, combines them in a new way that I wouldn’t have done on my own. The flavors of this salad will marinate in the fridge making a yummy lunch for work tomorrow and a good side accompaniment for dinner later in the week. I would definitely try this again and possibly substitute other cheeses I have on hand and use other vegetables and herbs in different seasons.

With that, I sign off to enjoy the rest of the summer evening and to ponder what’s for dinner tomorrow.

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