Tomato ecstasy: Kicked-up panzanella

Mama Steph's recent score of homegrown tomatoes

Lewis Grizzard shared an absolute truth, as far as I’m concerned, when he said, “It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts when eating a homegrown tomato.” I can enjoy a store-bought tomato, of course. I find the grape tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, especially, are quite sweet and easy to use. But the larger, slicing tomatoes? Not usually as good, except for a short window of time during the summer.

When you’re in that sweet spot during summer and you see a roadside stand or farmers market featuring locally-grown tomatoes, make sure to stop to get some. Take them home, and do the following:

Mama Steph's tomato sandwich of joy

  1. Slice the tomato in preparation for making sandwiches. My favorite knife for slicing tomatoes is my filet knife. The very fine teeth and thin blade make the prettiest slices.
  2. Take one of the slices intended for sandwiches off the plate. Put it on a saucer, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and grab a fork. Take a bite of the slice, and allow your tastebuds to enjoy a moment of ecstasy…notice the sweetness and firmness of the juicy flesh, and the way the salt and pepper complement that sweetness just perfectly.

    3. With the other slices, you should make a BLT, if you like them, or if you have no bacon, make the perfect simple tomato sandwich. You’ll need some fresh white bread, Duke’s mayonnaise, and some salt and pepper. Simple and beautiful, tomato sandwiches are the flavor of my childhood summers.

    4. Chop up a second tomato, and make a completely over-the-top flavor-packed salad. My parents made the typical dinner salad when I lived at home; iceberg lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and a bottle of Thousand Island in the center of the table. If they were feeling fancy, they’d add a boiled egg or some bacon bits…not that there’s anything wrong with that. 😉  Now, though, I love to dress up a salad so much so that it could be a meal on its own: a mix of various lettuces and baby spinach, fresh tomatoes of different colors chopped into bite-size pieces, toasted pecans, dried cranberries, crumbled feta cheese, and so on. Add some roasted chicken and it’s a fantastic lunch.

    5. If you buy enough fresh tomatoes, you could even can or freeze your own to enjoy in the cold summer months.

    Grow some tomatoes and basil in any big container you can get your hands on
    Grow some tomatoes and basil in any big container you can get your hands on…it’s fairly easy and makes the summer so much tastier!

    Another simple idea is to make this delicious salad, panzanella, which is a tomato and bread salad. However, I’ve kicked mine up a notch by adding some jalapeno pepper for a bit of heat. Feel free to omit that if you prefer. Just don’t make the mistake of adding green bell pepper in its place, as it will completely take over the flavor of this salad.

    Mama Steph's sliced green tomatoesNote that I’ve used Roma tomatoes in this recipe; this isn’t a hard and fast rule. You could use any meaty red tomato. Romas are great in this role because they’re less juicy, giving you more texture without as much juice draining off into the salad. I also added some bright and beautiful green tomatoes, for a nice texture variation, a kick of tartness, and some beautiful color.

    Mama Steph's kicked up panzanella

Mama Steph’s Kicked-Up Panzanella

1 1/2 pounds Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 pint small yellow tomatoes, chopped
1 small to medium green tomato, diced small
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1 small yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (keep the seeds if you want the heat)
1 small firm cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/3 cup minced red onion
handful of fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
3 cups homemade toasted bread chunks
1/4 cup homemade vinaigrette, or use your favorite bottled brand


1. If the bread is soft (stale is best in this application), cube it with a serrated knife, spread it on a large cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and bake at 275 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or until they feel crispy to the touch. Set aside to cool.
2. In a large mixing or serving bowl, combine tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapeno, cucumber, basil leaves and vinaigrette. Stir to coat the vegetables with the vinaigrette.
3. Add the bread to the salad, and toss well. Let all ingredients marinate on the countertop, covered, for an hour or two before serving. Refrigerate any leftovers.

This salad pairs beautifully with grilled chicken or any kind of fish. Also, if you’d like to add a punch of protein, add some cubed smoked mozzarella when you add the bread, and mix it in well. A cup of small cubes would be perfect, in my opinion.

Make sure to find some tomatoes to enjoy soon, before summer’s end. Fall is almost upon us!

Copyright 2015 Stephanie Hill Frazier. All rights reserved.


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