One of my favorite past times is the Pantry Challenge – making a meal with what’s on hand. Since yesterday was a glorious Seattle summer day, I decided on something I rarely choose: salad.
I had a handful of mixed cherry tomatoes from the farmer’s market, half a loaf of Grand Central Bakery’s Como bread languishing on the counter, and one small hunk of halloumi cheese. I was craving the cheese, so I worked around that. Since I had stale bread, croutons seemed like a good idea. Throw the tomatoes in and the lunch plan had taken shape. I also had a cucumber in the fridge, thanks to my summer obsession of drinking Pimm’s Cups in the afternoon (paired for whatever reason with my other summer obsession: spicy Cheetos). I was too lazy to make a vinaigrette, which I normally do for panzanella, and instead drizzled the salad with excellent olive oil and an 18 year old balsamic vinegar that my husband had given me for my birthday.
It turned out lovely and I was feeling very healthful until I noticed the mix of vinegar, olive oil, and tomato juices pooled at the bottom of my empty bowl, just begging to be sopped up by the leftover croutons. So, instead of a healthy proportion of vegetables to cheese and bread, I might have consumed an entire third of the loaf, cooked in butter and oil, by myself. But that’s what summer freedom is about, isn’t it?
These are the approximate proportions I used for one salad. It would be easy to increase, just use your eyes and (this could be dangerous) your appetite to help you guesstimate amounts. As a guide, all of the elements of the salad should be about the same size.
For the croutons:
A good hunk of quality bread, crusts trimmed if tough, cut into bite size (about ¾ inch) cubes
Extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, halved
Salt and Pepper
For the salad:
¼ of an English cucumber, quartered and cut into thick slices
A handful of cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on size
About 2 ounces of halloumi cheese (you could also substitute fresh mozzarella or any other of your favorite sliceable cheeses – just cube and toss into the salad without cooking)
Good quality extra virgin olive oil
A good aged balsamic vinegar (if you just have regular balsamic, reduce it in a small saucepan until it reaches a syrupy drizzling consistency.)
Salt and pepper (I happened to have flaked Cornish sea salt that I brought back from vacation, but any fancy flakey salt, such as Kosher, Maldon, Fleur de Sel, or Murray Pink would work!)
Optional: sliced salami, peperoncinis or mixed baby greens. I usually add all of these when I make my regular panzanella, and if you need a more substantial salad, feel free. However, I wanted this to taste simply of summer, and felt that it didn’t need the additions at all. I put in peperoncinis and wished I hadn’t.
In a sauté pan, heat an even amount of olive oil and butter with the garlic until just starting to sizzle. You’ll need enough to coat all of the bread cubes, and can always add a little more if you need to. Toss in the bread cubes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute over medium low to medium heat, tossing frequently until the croutons are golden and crisp on the outside. If you notice the garlic getting any more than a rich golden brown, fish them out and toss them.
Meanwhile, assemble the salad. Cut the vegetables and place them in a bowl. Cube the cheese and leave on the cutting board. Once the croutons are done, empty them onto a plate lined with a paper towel, and wipe out the pan. Replace on the heat and add the halloumi. Turn frequently until golden brown on all sides. If you don’t have a nonstick pan (I happened to use stainless steel), they may stick slightly. Just scrape up any cheesy residue so it doesn’t burn (I snack on this) and keep turning – you’ll figure out pretty quickly when they need to be turned. This cheese is meant to be cooked (it is GREAT on the barbeque) so it should behave fairly well.
Sprinkle salt and pepper on the veggies in the bowl, top with the cheese and croutons, then drizzle with the oil and vinegar. Toss and taste. Adjust seasonings as necessary, then dig in!