Breads Brunch Dinners From the Beach Make ahead Savory Uncategorized

From The Beach ~ Panzanella Salad To Go

Over the years, I’ve called many places home. Each spot has been special with a flood of wonderful memories that warm my heart and remind me of people, past and present, that have graced my life. Each one has been ‘home’. Yet, when I think of where I am truly content, my mind wanders to the scenery, sounds and smells of the small beach on Long Island Sound where I have spent a lifetime of summers. For me, this small spit of Connecticut coastline is home. The salt-filled air, gulls circling and cawing, the boats sailing nearby with their spinnakers set are the backdrop of my happiest times and my comfort during the less than wonderful days.

I raised my kids here as my mom raised me and I hope, one day, to watch my grandchildren go through the same series of summertime firsts that come with being a beach kid:  first sand sandwich, first splash, first steps on burning sand, first swim, first hot dog, first beach blanket fort, first vanilla with shots. So many wondrous firsts..

But it’s more than just these things…  It’s also the sense of peace I get from being here. It seems like yesterday that my parents walked this beach with me and my three brothers and, decades ago, my mother and her five brothers sailed these waters as kids and young adults as did my grandmother at the turn of the last century when she and her sisters were young girls. Yes. I feel at home here on this beach.

As much of a beach kid that I was, truth be told, my mother hated “beach dinners”. With four of us kids in tow, I can only imagine she found them difficult to organize and execute and just as tedious to clean up after. I can see her shaking her head in her quiet way and whispering to herself  “ugh.. not worth the bother”.  As an adult, I get it. My friends get it too. But, rather than shun the beach at dinnertime as our parents did, we, as a group, have learned to master and control this beast by dividing and conquering. The summer “potluck” was born a few years back and, happily, it has made my days at the beach frequently grow into the warm summer evenings.

One of my summer favorites for these dinners is this Panzanella Salad. No, it’s not completely make ahead as the bread would get too soggy and the fresh flavors would lose their distinctiveness but it’s a summer classic that highlights everything fabulous and ripe from the garden and/or farmers market so I had to ‘make it work”. By keeping the elements separated in ziptop bags and using the big splatter bowl as my carrier, I’m ready to go in no time. I don’t think my Mom would have liked my Panzanella Salad (she didn’t stray too far from the classics) but I know she would have liked that I am still the beach girl she raised.


Panzanella Salad
Makes about 6 servings.

⁃    1 small loaf (10 ounces) bread (ciabatta, focaccia, or boule & sour dough works too)
⁃    1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
⁃    1/4 cup red-wine vinegar (you can also use balsamic)
⁃    1  clove garlic (I use a large one), minced
⁃    2 pounds ripe, multi-colored tomatoes (I like heirlooms the best), cored and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
⁃    1 1/2 cups corn kernels (from about 2 – 3 ears)
⁃    1 medium red onion, diced
⁃    2/3 cup lightly packed chopped fresh herbs (you can use a combo of basil, mint and parsley)
⁃    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chose your Add-ins (optional):
⁃    1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
⁃    1 cup crumbled feta
⁃    3/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola
⁃    1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
⁃    1/4 cup capers, rinsed and dried
⁃    + any protein you’d like to toss in: chick peas, grilled chicken or shrimp

1. Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 425°F. Slice the bread into 3/4 inch thick slices and cut each slice into 3/4 inch cubes. Spread on a half sheet pan in an even layer. Bake, stirring occasionally, until the cubes are golden and crisp, about 15 minutes. Move the pan to a wire rack and cool completely.  When the bread is cooled, pile it into a large zip top bag, seal tightly and set aside at room temperature for up to 1 day before serving

2. In a small heavy-duty zip top bag, combine the olive oil, vinegar, garlic and some salt and pepper. Seal tightly and set aside or refrigerate up to 1 day before serving.

3. In a large, heavy-duty zip top bag, combine the tomatoes, corn and red onion.  Scrape the chopped herbs into a tiptop bag and put any additional “Add-ins” in their own bag. Seal all the bags tightly and set aside or refrigerate up to 1 day before serving.

4. About 30 minutes before serving, toss the bread with the tomato mixture, herbs and any Add-ins in a big bowl. Gently shake the vinaigrette bag and pour evenly over the salad, give it all a good toss and adjust the salt and pepper are needed.

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  • Barbara | Creative Culinary
    June 27, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    I didn’t grow up with a beach like you did and even when we lived in North Carolina we had a 90 minute trip from Raleigh to get there. But when I was there, well, it was my Heaven on earth. I would wake each morning to see the sunset and walk the beach that was almost deserted. I had both a deep fear and a huge love for the ocean and I raised my children for 6 years in the Carolinas and some of those beach moments are forever ingrained in my heart.

    I was just in the room that used to be my daughter’s a bit ago and came upon our stash of shells…wow did that take me back and then I read your post just minutes later. Definitely having a moment of melancholy and missing something right now that I have not seen in far too long; thanks for those memories and for reminding me it’s panzanella salad time; one of my all time favorites salads in this whole world!

    • Abby Dodge
      June 28, 2012 at 9:55 am

      I was feeling quite nostalgic myself.. time moves so quickly. Thank goodness for memories!

  • Gail
    June 28, 2012 at 7:35 am

    The next best reason to the taste of a panzanella salad is its versatility!
    So many flavor combinations to explore.
    I’ve even used panzanella as the vehicle for enjoying calcium-rich sardines.

    Enjoy the beach this summer, Abby.

    • Abby Dodge
      June 28, 2012 at 9:56 am

      OOOO sardines! Excellent addition to this salad! xx

  • Carol Sacks
    July 1, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Abby, a delightful, evocative post and a gorgeous recipe!

    • Abby Dodge
      July 2, 2012 at 1:39 pm

      Thank you Carol. You’re kind comment means a lot.

  • Kate | Food Babbles
    July 1, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    I loved reading about your times as a family on the beach, generation after generation. I love that you all share that common thread. I also adore this salad. I (believe it or not!) only recently tried panzanella salad but I loved it! This recipe is the perfect dinner after a lazy summer day at the beach. Lovely post.

    • Abby Dodge
      July 2, 2012 at 1:41 pm

      Thanks Kate for your kind words. I think that regardless of where I live, I will always be a beach “girl”!

  • Nancy
    July 2, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    As a beach baby now raising the next generation of beach babies, I have to confess I got a little choked up at your memories! It does seem a lot of trouble to chop, prep, pack and remember every little thing when heading down to the sand and sun, but every time I see those sun-browned backs running ahead into the waves I breathe deeply and think that yes, THIS is why we live here. My Manhattan sister arrives tomorrow afternoon and we have been talking about dinner at the beach–I know she will love this salad! It’s going in my cooler for sure! Thank you Abby.

    • Abby Dodge
      July 2, 2012 at 2:17 pm

      I had a feeling you’d relate to this post! Have fun with your sis and enjoy the fireworks!

  • Hannah
    July 2, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    This post definitely stirs up some nostalgic feelings. For me, it’s the beaches on Cape Cod and the North Shore of Massachusetts. Lots of sandy sandwiches! This is a terrific salad and perfectly designed for a beach dinner – I love it, Abby!

    • Abby Dodge
      July 2, 2012 at 3:48 pm

      Thanks so much Hannah. I remember the grit in my egg salad sandwich like it was yesterday. Still makes me cringe!

  • Renee - Kudos Kitchen
    July 2, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    You whisked me away to the beach with you while reading this post Abby. I love that you have such wonderful past family memories and exciting future memories still waiting to happen, on the beach you love so much. I am most definitely jealous of your beach days. I’ll plan on making this salad, close my eyes and dream I’m hearing crashing waves and smelling the salty sea. This recipe looks so delicious! Thanks for sharing it, and your story!

    • Abby Dodge
      July 3, 2012 at 10:33 am

      Thanks Renee. These days, I spend most of my beach time huddled under an umbrella but I do love it

  • Lisa | Dust with Flour
    July 2, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    Thanks for a beautiful post. This makes me miss the beaches of Lake Michigan even more than I already do. … Never thought of trying to transport a panzanella — great idea.

    • Abby Dodge
      July 3, 2012 at 10:36 am

      It’s really a gerat take-along salad, Lisa. And for those who are more eco-friendly, tupperware comes in all sizes!

  • Sunchowder - Wendy Read
    July 3, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Such a beautiful post Abby–I really felt as I was there with you. And yes thank goodness for memories, they are such a sweet place to live for the moments it conjures. I too am a beach lover and what a great recipe and reminder!

    • Abby Dodge
      July 3, 2012 at 10:38 am

      Thanks Wendy. I am grateful that I take great comfort in all my memories. Sure, some are bittersweet but such is life and I count myself lucky that I have so many good ones.