Beet and Roquette Panzanella

Image property of The Entertaining House/Jessica Gordon Ryan

I've gone farmer's market mad. Crazy. I cannot get enough fresh produce. I cannot tell you how incredibly different the produce is fresh from the farm. Grocery store produce cannot compare. Organic grocery store produce cannot compare. It cannot begin to compare. I've been obsessing about tomatoes of late, as you've noticed if you are a regular reader. But there's so many other wonderful things... everything is in season now. Everything. I'm a huge beet fan. I adore them. But I think beets are like cilantro. You either love them or you hate them. (I also happen to be a huge cilantro fan!)

During the summertime The Westport Farmer's Market takes over the entire Imperial Avenue commuter lot with vendors from farms across the state. But we're not talking just fruit and veggies. We're talking organic meats and cheeses... plants, wonderful breads, Mexican foods, salads, salsas, desserts, coffee, honeys and even a pizza truck... You haven't had anything until you've had pizza made from the back of a truck! Don't feel badly, this is organic pizza made with fresh ingredients from all these wonderful farms and vendors. Doesn't get better than this! To all my local peeps, if you haven't been, you really ought to. I promise you won't be disappointed. Full list of vendors here.

Today I loaded up my arms and bags with fresh cantaloupes, tomatoes of all varieties and sizes, wonderful multi-grain bread, beets, salad greens, an incredible quinoa salad (another new addiction) and an old addiction, an amazing spicy out of this world spicy gazpacho...

I'm a huge salad lover. Especially when made with fresh fresh fresh greens. I'm a huge sandwich lover as well. And often I'll layer fresh veggies in between two slices of fabulous bread.Any combination of veggies, raw or grilled will do. When it's hot out, I prefer raw, especially when tomatoes are in season and bursting with flavor.

When the bread gets stale (meaning it hasn't gotten gobbled up within hours, which is rare around here!) I love to make Panzanella. Panzanella is a traditional Tuscan salad that consists, primarily, of bread and tomatoes. Anything can be added to it to enhance flavors and textures. Popular additions are onions, olives and cucumbers. I made a variation for lunch the other day that used less bread and more veggie - I added mini rocquette (also called rocket or arugula) beets, tomatoes and mozzarella. I created a base layer of green then piled up 1 large diced beet and 1 medium tomato, some of the mozzarella, a handful of stale bread, cubed. I drizzled some olive oil over the top and added some salt and pepper. With vegetables this fresh I prefer not to mask their flavors with salad dressing.

The best breads for panzanella are the rustic ones... good hearty breads with good chew. You don't want a bread that is overly stale, for that you're best bet is to grill or toast them for crostini or croutons. For panzanella you want a bread that is a day or two old. Still fairly soft but not enough to get soggy from the olive oil and tomatoes.

Summer Sandwich for a Saturday or Sunday Afternoon

This could very well be the easiest and best tasting sandwich you have ever had. Think of it as a salad in really great bread. But there are a few things you must do to make this sandwich a success. Otherwise it will be an ordinary sandwich. And that's not what I'm striving for here.

First. You must get yourself to your local farm or farmer's market. They're everywhere this summer - The farmer's markets, that is! You'll find grocery store produce practically inedible once you get your veggies from the farm. This is how our tomatoes and lettuce and cucumbers and all the other deliciousness is supposed to taste!

After you've gotten all the veggies that your heart desires you'll need some really good bread. With the emphasis on really good. I am a bread snob. I make no apologies for this. Many local bakers sell their wonderful breads at farmer's markets. Really, farmer's markets are one stop shopping... you should be able to find everything you need from meat and fish, eggs, cheeses, breads, veggies, soups, and some of the best desserts ever.... But I digress... If you can't get a good bread at your farmer's market, then head to a bakery. But please please please do not go to the grocery store for this unless your grocery store sells local breads... and many of them do.

You'll want a fat, flat crusty bread like a ciabatta or eve a softer focaccia. Cut the bread in half through the middle and lay both halves on your work surface, crust sides down. On one half drizzle a little bit of extra virgin olive oil, infused or plain. Now start layering all your veggies... anything and everything you wish! We used mixed lettuces, thinly sliced fresh red tomatoes, thinly sliced fresh cucumbers, crushed and chopped Greek olives, thinly sliced pepadews and fresh mozzarella. We added some more olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and pepper to taste. We placed the other half of the bread on top of the sandwich and pressed it down. You can use something heavy to hold it into place if you wish. When you're ready, cut the sandwich into as many pieces as you'd like. Serves 4-5 large sandwiches or more as mini sandwiches. You can add anything you would like - fresh basil, onions, peppers... The options are endless. Use an infused olive oil or add some pesto to the bread. Swap out the mozzarella for goat cheese or a spreadable herb cheese like Boursin.

Go ahead and make this. You'll thank me when you do!