Tomorrow is the first day of summer, and most of us have already started to feel the heat – May was the third warmest on record. As a result, standing by a broiling stove or grill is not my first choice when I start thinking about making dinner. I have turned to my cool recipes, which are both light on perspiration and high on taste.

One of my favorite recipes, coming from Barefoot Contessa’s How Easy Is That? cookbook, is Panzanella. The beauty of this Greek salad is not only that it’s delicious, but there’s a lot of flexibility about what veggies go in it – you can put in what you have on-hand, or what’s in-season at the farmers’ market (see purple bell pepper above). The only must is a good, hearty bread to soak up the wonderful dressing. The feta doesn’t hurt either.

Greek Panzanella (Serves 6)

¾ cup good olive oil, divided
6 cups diced rustic bread, cut into 1-inch cubes [I love ciabatta here]
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 red bell pepper, seeded and large-diced
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and large-diced
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
½ red onion, sliced in half rounds
¼ cup good red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup good olive oil
½ pound feta cheese, cut in ¾-inch cubes
½ cup kalamata olives, pitted

Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a large sauté pan until hot. Add the bread and sprinkle with salt and pepper; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 5 to 10 minutes, until nicely browned. Set aside.

Place the cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, tomatoes and red onion in a large bowl and toss together.

For the vinaigrette, place the garlic, oregano, mustard, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper in a small bowl and whisk together. Whisking constantly, add the remaining ½ cup of olive oil to make an emulsion.

Add the feta, olives, and bread to the vegetables in the bowl, add the vinaigrette, and toss lightly. Set aside for 30 minutes for the flavors to develop. Season to taste and serve at room temperature.

[Note: the recipe differs slightly between the cookbook (above) and the online version, but they are essentially the same.]

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