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.
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.