Happy Summer everybody! I hope it’s been a good one so far for you and your family. Summertime means different things to different people. To me, it means longer days outside, the sound of tree frogs & crickets, trips to the beach, and fresh vegetables. Growing up down in Mississippi, summertime for us kids meant that if we helped pick the butter beans and peas from my pawpaw’s garden, Momma would take us to the pool. She had worked out a trade with one of her beauty salon clients that managed some apartments-a perm in exchange for a little pool time. At that age, nothing felt better than jumping into a cool pool after a hot Mississippi day of pea pickin’! Now a days, these rocky Tennessee hills really don’t leave much space for a good garden, so some large pots on the deck will have to do and luckily my little tomato and basil plants are not disappointing this year. Here’s a tasty and quick summer dinner, highlighting the fare from my simple deck garden.
First, the backstory and inspiration for this meatless supper. During my time on air last year at WSM, Chef Eric Zizka from Nashville’s Oak Steakhouse brought in a beautiful fresh salad on Menu Monday. It was loaded with fresh vegetables and chunks of bread—not traditional croutons, but delicious pieces of chewy, artisan bread. I loved it! Guests on the show were always bringing in food and typically, we (producer Devon O’Day, Social Media Sam Rochford and me) divvied everything up and took home leftovers, but I think on that day, I was a bit hoggish and scarfed it all down by my lonesome in between conversations with the chef and spins of George Strait and The Oak Ridge Boys. I love the idea of bread in a salad—it’s called Panzanella, a Tuscan creation using stale bread in a salad of fresh vegetables. Fast forward to this summer-Charlie and I had been working outside all day getting ready for a shoot at the house and I needed a supper solution that was fast and easy. So, I whipped up my own little version of a bread salad and married it with my favorite restaurant crouton—Cracker Barrel’s sourdough crouton. (I confess I sometimes ask for a bowl of their croutons before my traditional chicken ’n dumplins with a double order of turnip greens arrives. Try them-you’ll thank me later.)
I plucked a few ripe cherry tomatoes from my little deck plants, clipped some basil from it’s next-door neighbor and grab a boule of sourdough bread from the bakery. I pan browned the chunks of bread in butter and sprinkled them with garlic powder and salt. Then I mixed it all together with mozzarella cheese, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and freshly ground black pepper. A caprese salad is just about my favorite and when you throw in some garlicky, salty, buttered chunks of bread that have soaked up the oil and vinegar, my hoggish demeanor once again kicks in. There’s really no set amounts to note…just do what your eyes and palate craves. And you don’t have to brown the bread at all if you don’t want to.
Summertime is short, so when you’re thinking about what you’re gonna make for dinner, be inspired by what’s popping up in your garden. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Go for filling and fresh. Whatever gets your family around the table for a meal and makes for less time over the sink washing dishes…and more pool time!
- day old sourdough bread, cut into bite-sized pieces
- garlic powder
- cherry tomatoes, halved
- balsamic vinegar
- olive oil
- mozzarella, cut into small pieces
- fresh basil, chopped
- freshly ground black pepper
- In a large non-stick skillet, melt butter and drop in sourdough pieces.
- Stir to coat bread with butter and sprinkle each side with garlic powder and salt. When browned, remove from skillet and cool.
- Place cherry tomatoes in an individual serving bowl and splash with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
- Layer in mozzarella chunks, basil, and a few more tomatoes, adding amounts of each ingredient to your taste.
- Splash salad with more olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
- Right before serving, toss in browned bread pieces and give a quick stir.
- Season with freshly ground black pepper and if needed, more salt.
- Serve immediately.
- You don't have to brown the bread if you don't want to, but I wanted that buttery, garlic/salt flavor with a little bit of brown crunch.