Summer Panzanella Salad

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Growing up in the midwest, summer was filled with hot sun, Cubs baseball, and my Grandmother's homegrown tomatoes.  She had a small garden in her backyard where tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and bell peppers would grow plentifully every year.  The tomatoes were so sweet you could eat them like apples.  

This Summer panzanella salad takes me right back to that place.  It is fresh, bright, and packed full of all the wonderful flavors Summer has to offer.  My little spin on this classic bread salad is the addition of a basil and chive pesto.  The pesto brings an herby punch to the sweet tomatoes, smoky zucchini, and tangy vinaigrette.  The key to making this recipe is using the freshest ingredients you can find.  I really can't stress this enough. Take advantage of your local farmers market or your own backyard garden, because Summer will be gone just as quickly as it came, and it's just too sweet to let pass by. 

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Summer Panzanella Salad

Ingredients:

1 1/2-2 lbs zucchini

1 1/2-2 lbs tomatoes

1 large sour baguette

parmesan cheese

2 cups chives, loosely packed

2 cups basil, loosely packed

Juice of 1 lemon

1 2/3 cups olive oil

1/2 shallot, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon dijon mustard

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

salt

pepper

Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees.  Cut baguette into 1" cubes and spread evenly onto a baking sheet.  Toast bread cubes in the oven for approximately 20 minutes or until the bread is slightly dried out and crunchy on the outside.  This step is very important.  If the bread is too soft it will become soggy once tossed in the dressing.  

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While the bread is toasting, prepare the basil and chive pesto.  Puree basil, chives, lemon juice, and 2/3 cup of olive oil in a food processor until a smooth paste forms.  Season to taste with salt, about 1-2 good pinches.  This yields about 1 cup of pesto.

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Next, make the dressing by combining the shallot, garlic, dijon mustard and vinegar in a small bowl.  Season with salt and pepper and then slowly drizzle in 1 cup of olive oil, whisking vigorously, until the dressing emulsifies.  Set aside and let the flavors meld, about a half hour or so.  This yields approximately 1 1/2 cups of vinaigrette.  

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Once the pesto and dressing is made, prep the veggies.  Cut the tomatoes into small wedges and slice the zucchini on a diagonal into 1/4" slices.  In a large bowl lightly coat zucchini with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Toss until all of the zucchini is coated evenly.  Heat up a grill pan on high until almost smoking.  Cook zucchini for 2-3 minutes per side, or until nice brown grill marks are made.

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In a large bowl combine bread cubes, tomatoes, and grilled zucchini.  Toss with about 1/2 cup of vinaigrette until everything is well coated.  Place salad onto a large, flat serving tray.  Drizzle on some of the pesto and garnish with parmesan shavings.