"Another party this weekend, huh?"
That's what my neighbor asked me Sunday when I saw her in the backyard after our third weekend in a row having my vaccinated family members over for some kind of celebration.
At first, it was great to be together; host those parties, hug those grandparents and cheers to making it through the last year and a half. But by the third weekend, I couldn't eat another hot dog on the grill, or serve up another creative macaroni salad. I've got outdoor party fatigue and we haven't even hit Memorial Day weekend yet. Yikes.
During the pandemic, when it was just me cooking in the kitchen day in, day out, experimenting with new recipes with nothing but time on my hands, I would occasionally come across something new and delicious and think, "When I can see my mom again, I'll make this for her." Do you think for the life of me I can remember those recipes or where I found them?
Of course not, but here we are with people to entertain and foods to grill. I'm a no fuss kind of outdoor party host: hot dogs, hamburgers and usually one salad that you better like. Like everyone on the planet, I've got family with dietary issues, specifically non-dairy, which can make most potato/macaroni salad sides non-starters.
I had found this Panzanella by the great Ina Garten is almost always a crowd-pleaser. It's also great to make the components ahead of time and just combine the ingredients right before your guests arrive.
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 small French bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 red onion, cut in 1/2 and thinly sliced
20 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped
For the vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread and salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed.
For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together.
In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion and basil. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Serve, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend.