My parents hosted a barbecue this past weekend, and my mom had asked me to bring a salad. I remembered one from Ina Garten’s recent book (Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That?), that I had wanted to try, but figured it would be best served to a large group. I know that some people are tired of Greek salad. It does tend to show up at every potluck – and why not? What’s not to love about it? Sweet tomatoes, salty feta & olives, sharp onions, and earthy oregano. All things my heart desires on a frequent basis – might as well eat them all together.
Ina’s salad is a mash-up of a typical Greek salad and an Italian panzenella (a salad that finds use for day-old bread, by soaking it in dressing and tossing with tomatoes and other delicious produce). It sounded delicious, and this is a perfect time to add tiny tomatoes to your menu. They are in season right now, and perfectly juicy and sweet. I could have just thrown the tomatoes and bread together in a bowl with a little bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, and vinegar, and I’m sure the salad would have been just ask good. So if you’re even thinking about making this, go out, buy your tomatoes, and make it now! Don’t wait till tomato season is over!
I didn’t really make any changes to the original recipe. I only cut back on the oil & vinegar, since it looked like it was going to be too much, and make for a soggy salad (bingo. There was quite enough dressing with the amount I used). I also don’t bother paying for pitted kalamatas – plus their incredibly hard to find here anyways. So I pitted my own. Sure I could have left them whole in the salad, but when I’m making dishes to bring to someone else’s home, I like to keep choking hazards to a minimum. To pit an olive, all I do is lay it down on a cutting board, place my knife over top of it, and then smash the knife with my hand/fist (if you crush garlic like this, you’ll know what motion I’m talking about). After the olive has been smashed, it’s simply a matter of finding the “tear” that was left behind, and ripping out the pit. Then I cut the olive in half, and throw it in the salad. It takes a bit of time, but I think that people eating them appreciate not having to dig in their mouths for pits or spit them out on their plates – we all want to show a little bit of class at social gatherings right?
The only thing that Ina doesn’t specify in the recipe (and so I didn’t bother doing) was using day-old/stale bread, as opposed to fresh bread. The recipe simply states “Rustic Bread.” So when we went to the grocery store and found a still warm loaf of Ciabatta I was compelled to buy it. I knew it was a stupid move at the time. How was I going to cut this soft, fresh loaf into little cubes? But I couldn’t resist. I’ll also (sheepishly) admit that we tore into it the moment we got to the car. The crust was crunchy and the crumb was perfectly tender and hot. We had to hold ourselves back from eating it all and then having to replace it with another loaf for the salad. Somehow willpower overcame fanatical hunger. However, when we got home and I started to prepare the salad I found out I was right. It was a pain in the butt to cut the darn thing into cubes. But was it worth it to taste the fresh baked Ciabatta? Oh yes.
Adapted (only a little) from Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That? by Ina Garten
1/4 cup olive oil
1 boule/loaf rustic bread, cut into 1-inch cubes) – we used Ciabatta
salt and pepper
1 English cucumber, halved, seeded, and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 red bell pepper, diced into large pieces
1 yellow bell pepper, diced into large pieces
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 of a small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 lb feta cheesed, diced into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss bread with olive oil and salt and pepper. Spread evenly on a baking pan and bake in the oven for 8-12 minutes until browned. Remove from oven and let cool.
Combine remaining salad ingredients (minus dressing) in a large bowl and toss gently with your (clean) hands.
To make the dressing, combine all the ingredients in a small canning jar (or any container you have with a very leakproof lid). Put the lid on and vigorously shake. Note: Ina (and many other cookbooks) suggest putting all the dressing ingredients – minus oil – into a small bowl and whisking together, then suggest you slowly add the oil and whisk away (while somehow magically keeping your small bowl steady) in order to create what’s called an emulsion. But here’s the secret: if you have mustard in your vinaigrette, it will do all the work for you, as long as you shake up your ingredients really well. Sure this isn’t what you’d do to impress the chef if you were in culinary school – but we’re at home, why make things harder on yourself?
Pour the dressing over the salad ingredients in the bowl, add the bread on top, then (using your clean hands again) lightly toss the salad together. Let the salads flavours combine for 15-30 minutes before serving. This will allow the bread to soak up some of the dressing, while still staying crunchy.
Ina says the salad serves 6. At a burger BBQ with plenty of other salads to go around, this served 18-20.