From The Beach ~ Panzanella Salad To Go

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by Abby Dodge on June 27, 2012

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.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

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.


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