I love Ina Garten. I love when she has those little dinner parties at her East Hampton, N.Y., home. Ina goes to local markets to pick up ingredients and sometimes a little surprise for Jeffrey, her loving husband. I even love those great shirts and scarves she wears. Ina knows how to pull off fashionably chic while cooking and shopping.
But to give credit where credit is due, she truly is a culinary goddess. If I want to do anything from roasting a chicken to a dense chocolate cake to a fruit tart, Ina is my online go-to. So it wasn’t surprising then when I looked up her recipe for panzanella, a Tuscan salad made with chopped salad vegetables and bread soaked in dressing, sometimes with anchovies. What I found instead was a recipe that had me sidetracked but still in the same salad family — Greek Panzanella. I love Greek dishes almost as much as Italian, so I gave Ina’s variation a try. Instead of mozzarella, you use feta. Instead of anchovies, kalamata olives. And, above all else, spend a little more to use good French or Italian bread to make the crunchy bread cubes. The only thing I did differently was to leave out the bell peppers because at my advanced age, raw peppers don’t agree with me, and I knew I would be the major benefactor of this particular salad at my house. And I also baked the bread cubes instead of pan-frying them. They were still tasty.
(Adjusted just a little from Ina Garten’s recipe on the Food Network website.)
Good olive oil
1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced ¼-inch thick
1 red bell pepper, large diced
1 yellow bell pepper, large diced
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
½ red onion, sliced in half rounds
½ pound feta cheese, cut in ½-inch cubes
½ cup kalamata olives, pitted
For the vinaigrette:
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. Dijon mustard
¼ cup good red wine vinegar
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
½ cup good olive oil
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add the bread cubes and sprinkle with salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 5 to 10 minutes, until nicely browned. Add more olive oil as needed.
Place the cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, tomatoes, and red onion in a large bowl.
For the vinaigrette, whisk together the garlic, oregano, mustard, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper in a small bowl. While still whisking, add the olive oil and make an emulsion. Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables. Add the feta, olives, and bread cubes and mix together lightly. Set aside for 30 minutes for the flavors to blend. Serve at room temperature.