Spring has sprung and we can't wait to get our hands on some fresh veggies! A nice big garden salad is a great way to kick off any meal for a large group, but we like to shake things up every once in a while and opt for a chopped or composed salad instead.
One of my favorite recipes is for an Italian-inspired panzanella salad made with chunky chopped vegetables and freshly made jumbo croutons. Serve it up in your favorite large salad bowl or make mini cups of individual portions for a picnic or appetizer reception.
(serves 8-12 people)
For the Croutons
2-3 T Olive Oil
1 Whole Baguette or French Bread Loaf
Salt & Pepper
For the Salad
4 Large Heirloom Tomatoes
2 Whole Cucumbers
1 Whole Red Onion
2 Red Bell Peppers
2 Yellow Bell Peppers
4 T Capers
1 Whole Package of Fresh Basil Leaves (about 15-20 leaves)
For the Dressing
1 Shallot, finely chopped
1 t Dijon Mustard
4 T Champagne or White Wine Vinegar
3/4 C High Quality Olive Oil
Splash of Juice from Caper Jar
To Make the Croutons: Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a large sauté pan. Cube bread into 1" pieces and toss with olive oil in pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss frequently until bread toasts to a golden brown color. Remove from pan and set aside. You can make these up to a day or two before you plan to serve your salad so long as you store them in an airtight container.
To Make the Dressing: Whisk together shallot, mustard, vinegar, and caper juice in a small bowl. Continue whisking while you slowly stream in the olive oil until it combines into a vinaigrette. This is a cooking technique called emulsifying. Fancy!
To Make Salad: Cut tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and peppers into similar sized large pieces (around 1" cubes). Stack basil leaves and starting from one end, roll them up like you would a cigar. Slice vertically to create ribbons of basil. This is a chopping technique called a chiffonade - double fancy! Combine vegetables, basil, and capers in a large mixing bowl and give it a stir. Toss in your croutons and drizzle the entire mixture with your dressing. Let your salad rest in the refrigerator for around 30 minutes before serving so the croutons can soak up all that delicious dressing. Remove from refrigerator and let the salad come to room temperature about 15 minutes prior to serving. Enjoy!