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Show off the flavor of summer tomatoes with Cornbread Panzanella Salad.

They’re finally here! Juicy, vine ripened, local tomatoes are at their peak. Fresh and flavorful, they’re the showcase ingredient in our spin on panzanella, the classic Italian “bread salad.” Traditionally composed of tomatoes, leftover bread, olive oil, vinegar and fresh basil, we’ve substituted cornbread and added smoked bacon for a hearty Southern version. Cornbread Panzanella is perfect as a main dish on a hot summer night, or serve it as a side dish for a barbecue. Using a variety of tomato sizes and colors will yield the most spectacular presentation. But there is one cardinal rule: you must use real Southern cornbread, made without sugar. As writer and cookbook author Ronni Lundy puts it, “If God had meant for cornbread to have sugar in it, he’d have called it cake.” And frankly, cake and fresh summer tomatoes just don’t go together.

Cornbread Panzanella 4 to 6 servings 4 cups day-old Southern-style cornbread, cut in 1-inch cubes 6 slices thick-cut smoked bacon Preheat oven to 425˚ F. Cook bacon in a large skillet until crisp. Drain on paper towels, crumble, and reserve. Toss the cubed cornbread in the bacon drippings and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for approximately 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cubes are nicely toasted. Thirty minutes before serving, combine in a large bowl: 2 pounds fresh ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced 1 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil

Add the cubed cornbread and allow this mixture to sit, tossing occasionally, to develop juices and slightly soften the cornbread. At serving time, add the following ingredients and toss well: 3 cups torn Romaine lettuce leaves Reserved crumbled bacon 2 T. red wine vinegar ½ cup sliced pitted olives, your choice 2 T. chopped fresh basil leaves Fresh ground black pepper to taste ½ large cucumber, peeled and diced (optional) ¼ large red onion, diced or thinly sliced (optional) Top with shaved or shredded Parmesan when serving. — Drema Apperson


Jamie Haverkamp Photo

Virginia Neighbors  

July August 2010Issue