While flipping through Daniel Humm and Will Guidara’s I Love New York, a great source for ingredient-inspired recipes, I came across a photo of a warm panzanella, which looked more like a soup than a salad: stewy tomatoes bobbing in an orange-tinged, oil-slicked broth punctuated by golden cubes of bread and capers.
As inviting as a steaming pot of mussels or a bowl of pho, this warm salad had me instantly longing for fall, for breezy mornings, for crisp, cool evenings. And had I not just cooked a pot of chickpeas, I would have followed the recipe as written, but a legume-for-bread substitution worked beautifully, and the addition of feta made it feel hearty.
The star here is not the chickpeas or the toasted bread (or whatever starch you choose to use), but the beefy tomatoes breaking down, releasing juices, melding with the garlic-infused olive oil and a healthy splash of vinegar. This time of year, good tomatoes—with taut, near-bursting skins—make improvising easy: With cooked beans or grains on hand, this comes together very quickly, the result not a simmered-all-day flavor but a welcomed balance of cooked and fresh.
Vary the composition of this dish as you wish, but keep in mind a few things:
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• Use the juiciest tomatoes you can find, and don’t be afraid to put to use any past-prime tomatoes. That said, a handful of colorful teardrop tomatoes will add a nice contrast in shape and texture.
• Feta is optional but offers a nice richness. Be sure to add it at the very end, and keep it in big chunks to prevent it from disintegrating. Shaved Parmesan or teensy balls of mozzarella would be nice here, too.
• Warm bread on the side is a must, and olive-oil toasted bread is particularly good: While the chickpeas are stewing, heat another sauté pan over medium-high heat, add a few tablespoons of oil, then toss in a few slices of bread. Toast on both sides until evenly golden with charred edges.
Alexandra Stafford is a writer, photographer, and occasional stationery designer based in upstate New York, where she is writing a cookbook. You can read more of her work on her blog.
What are the recipes you make at the end of summer, when September's cool mornings are all you can think about? Tell us in the comments.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).