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On Cooking Southern: Short on Kitchen Time? Make a Meal of Bread Salad

on cooking southern bread salad

SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK
Hey
: Standard Southern greeting, variation from Hey y’all. Not to be confused with the stuff that cows and horses eat.

Some weeks it’s necessary to simplify one’s life in order to survive.

This has been one of those weeks. The seemingly endless honey-dos, appointments, report deadlines and wedding-related travel threatened to engulf The Old Bride like a Florida parking lot sinkhole swallowing a PT Cruiser.

I knew it was serious by Monday morning, when the in-flight movie list had become so familiar there was nothing new to view.

Mealtimes just sort of happen when life is this frenetic. Forget grocery shopping. These moments are when the KISS philosophy must rule: Keep It Simple, Stupid (one says this only to oneself). This means the cook makes do with whatever falls out of the fridge and pantry.

With a little out-of-the-box thinking – or perhaps no thought at all, the most humble of ingredients can be transformed into a delicious repast. Think cheese and crackers. Think of apple pie made without apples but with those crackers and topped with that cheese. Think bread salad.

Yup. I said bread salad. It’s got history, even. Nothing can be much more humble than stale bread. But oh my dears, not much is more glorious than a salad made from that bread. It’s like manna from Heaven.

The fancy foodie term for the most classic bread salad is “panzanella.” This salad contains chunks of stale bread soaked in some variation of olive oil and vinegar dressing. We can thank the Tuscans of Italy for this particular bread salad iteration.

We can thank our hungry Southern ancestors for cornbread salad. It always contains onions, tomatoes and a mayonnaise-based dressing. The flavors can go whichever way our personal tastes take us: Appalachian style … Deep South style … Cowboy style…. When time permits, pair it with ribs and burgers.

Our Southern KISS philosophy is always hard at work.


MAIN-DISH PANZANELLA POTLUCK

on cooking southern bread salad

The classic panzanella contains chunks of Italian bread combined with tomatoes and shaved Parmesan or fresh mozzarella cheese. Feel free to use other breads such as French baguettes, pugliese, or even strips of pita. Transform it into Greek or Spanish by changing the spices and cheeses. My version here contains crumbled, cooked turkey sausage and bowtie pasta, along with roasted veggies. It pairs perfectly with a side serving of brie-and-honey-topped toast, and a slightly sweet white wine.

16-oz pkg cubed butternut squash
1 medium purple eggplant, sliced into 1-inch strips and cubed
1 zucchini squash, sliced and slices quartered
3 T extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper
16 oz crumbled, cooked turkey sausage, browned in 2 T olive oil
16 oz bowtie pasta, cooked al dente
3 T extra virgin olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 T chopped fresh basil
1/2 c fresh parsley, chopped
5 radishes, sliced thin and slices quartered
1 c thin-sliced and loose-chopped red onion
1 c chopped celery, including celery leaves
5 to 7 Roma tomatoes, sliced and chopped
Half a baguette loaf torn into large pieces (about 2 c)
5 T red wine vinegar
2 T white balsamic vinegar
1 c extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
More salt and pepper to taste
6-oz container of crumbled Mediterranean-seasonings feta cheese
Romaine lettuce, optional

Line a large baking pan with parchment. Preheat oven to 400˚F. Combine the cubes of squash, eggplant and zucchini in a large bowl. Toss with olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and toss again. Spread veggies evenly in pan and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven long enough to turn the veggies; bake about 10 more minutes. Remove and cool.

While veggies are roasting, brown the turkey sausage and cook the pasta. Turkey sausage will tend to remain in clumps rather than crumbling; use spatula or slotted spoon to cut into small chunks.

Do not rinse the cooked pasta. Instead, drain well and immediately turn out into a large bowl. Toss with olive oil and minced garlic to coat. Using a slotted spoon, add the turkey sausage and roasted veggies.

In a separate bowl, combine the remaining veggies and herbs. Dump on top of the pasta. Place the bread chunks on top of the veggies. Make the dressing by whisking together the vinegars, olive oil and Dijon until emulsified. Pour over the bread and allow to soak for a minute before tossing to blend. Add the container of herbed feta and toss again. If needed, add salt and fresh-cracked pepper, to taste. Allow to sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes for flavors to meld. Serve on a bed of lettuce or with lettuce as a garnish. Will keep in fridge up to three days.


CORNBREAD SALAD

IMG_0987

My mountain family swears by the dill pickles and pickle juice – that Appalachian love of vinegar and brine always shows up! Southern Plate blogger Christy Jordan mixes a tablespoon of bacon drippings into the mayo with ranch dressing mix instead. Some versions of this salad contain corn, pinto beans and ranch dressing instead of the mayo-pickle combination. Feel free to toss OR layer the ingredients, always adding the dressing last.

4 to 6 c cubed stale cornbread (I used 10 stale B’s BBQ corn muffins)
1 c chopped green pepper
1 c chopped sweet onion (or green onion)
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 c dill pickle
3 c chopped ripe tomatoes of any type
1 lb crispy-cooked bacon, crumbled, OR a 3-oz pkg of bacon bits
1 c mayonnaise
1 T bacon drippings, OPTIONAL
1/2 c pickle juice
1/2 c chopped, toasted pecans or walnuts
Grated cheddar cheese, optional

Mix the mayonnaise and pickle juice to make a dressing. Mix all the veggies together. In a 9-by-13-inch dish, layer the ingredients – cornbread first, followed in order by mixed vegetables, crumbled bacon and dressing. Sprinkle cheese and pecans over the dressing layer. Refrigerate for several hours before serving. Toss when ready to serve.

VARIATION 1: Omit the pickles and pickle juice, mixing 3 c mayo with 1 package of ranch dressing mix, and add diced pimientos. VARIATION 2: Add jalapeños and green chilies. VARIATION 3: Add layers of corn and rinsed, cooked beans or peas such as pintos, black beans, purple hull peas.


Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ website and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

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