WRITTEN ON August 21st, 2009 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Bacon, Italian, Salads, Side Dish, Tomatoes

There’s nothing better than a big, red tomato fresh from the vine, still warm from the sunshine.  My mom grew fantastic tomatoes in her garden, and when I was growing up, BLT’s for dinner was a summertime treat. Bacon makes everything better, right?  I figured I’d change it up a bit and create a BLT salad with the glorious tomatoes I found at the Greenmarkets.  The slab bacon is nice and salty, and a little goes a long way here; you want the tomatoes to be the star.  Panzanella is an Italian bread salad traditionally made with day old bread, as a way to use up leftovers.  Frankly, when I get a craving, I go with it, and who has time to wait for the bread to get old anyway?  I just get it crispy and golden in the oven and call it a day.  A proper BLT screams for a dollop  of mayo, so I added a bit into the lemony vinaigrette to give it a creamy texture. An added bonus?  You can prep the bacon, bread and dressing in advance, and cut up the tomatoes and arugula at the last moment.  Which makes this a really simple salad for entertaining.  It’s colorful, tasty, and smells just like the BLT’s that Mom use to make. Eat it on it’s own, or serve it along side a grilled flank steak or BBQ chicken and toast the start of your weekend.

BLT Panzanella

BLT Panzanella

BLT Panzanella (serves 4)
½ loaf ciabatta bread, cubed
3 small to medium sized tomatoes, diced
3 oz slab bacon*, cut into cubes
3 large handfuls arugula, roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 350.  Layer cubed bread on a sheet pan, in a single layer. Bake in oven until golden brown and dried through.  You want to make sure they are completely dried out. In a medium sized sauté pan, cook bacon until slightly crisp and well browned.  Remove to paper towels, reserve 1 tsp drippings for dressing.  When you are ready to serve, toss bacon, tomatoes, and ciabatta with dressing, season with salt and plenty of freshly cracked black pepper.  At the last minute, toss in arugula.
Creamy Lemon Dressing
Juice of ½ a lemon
Zest of ¼ lemon
½ tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp leftover bacon drippings
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp mayonnaise
salt and fresh cracked black pepper
Combine lemon juice, zest, Dijon, salt and pepper to taste.  Whisk together bacon drippings and olive oil, then add, while whisking, in a slow stream to the Dijon mixture.  Whisk in mayonnaise at the last, and stir until creamy and well incorporated.
*Slab bacon is basically just breakfast bacon that is unsliced.  You should be able to get it from the deli counter or butcher, if it’s not available in the cured meats section. If you can’t find it, just use 3 oz of thickly sliced breakfast bacon.

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