Cornbread Panzanella with Heirloom Tomatoes

What is it about eating fresh summer tomatoes?

All winter and spring we begrudgingly munch bland, firm supermarket tomatoes. Our club sandwiches, BLTs, and Caprese salads feature these blah tomatoes, but we eat them. Beggars can’t be choosers. Then, each summer, the heirloom varieties ripen and WHAM! We get our annual redefinition of how tomatoes ought to taste. Acidic or sweet, mild or earthy, refreshing or robust, it’s a crop that we look forward to more than any other.

So it was with glee that we picked out a number of varieties from Holy City Farms on Wadmalaw Island, as well as several from our own garden, to prepare Cornbread Panzanella with Heirloom Tomatoes. From Japanese Trifle Black to Sungold, Roman Candle Yellow to Indigo Rose Cherry, we tried to get a bit of everything for this bright, summer salad.

The dark part of this story is that, at some point while we were away in Michigan this summer, a deer wandered into our yard and munched the top foot off of most of our hitherto-healthy tomato plants. The Cherokee Purple! The Brandywine Yellow! The Blush!  All of them topped by a hungry deer mouth. Some plants have just now begun to recover. Some are doomed.

heirloom tomato cornucopia 2

But no matter. New seedlings are growing for the fall crop (yay Southern gardening!) and we’ll start over. But now to the recipe.

When it comes to satisfying, hot-weather recipes, panzanella is one of my favorites. Sure, the oven is on to make and toast the cornbread, but after that it’s a nice, cool salad for a hot day. Eaten outside, on a porch or deck, it’s a perfect summer meal.

heirloom tomatoes 2

Cornbread Panzanella with Heirloom Tomatoes
Adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

1 recipe Crispy Corn Bread (below) or 3 cups of 1-inch cornbread cubes (even Jiffy Mix is okay!)
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes (4 to 6 medium, heirloom varieties if you like bright colors), chopped into bite-size pieces and set aside
6 cups torn lettuce or spinach (Bibb, butter or Boston lettuce work great)
2 cups bitter greens, like arugula
1 large Vidalia onion peeled and sliced very thinly
1 recipe Buttermilk-Lime Dressing (below)

Preheat oven to 250°F. Scatter the corn bread pieces in a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake until the pieces are toasted, about 8 minutes.

Place greens, toasted corn bread, onion and tomatoes to a large bowl and gently toss to mix. Add half the buttermilk dressing, season with salt and pepper to taste, and add more dressing if necessary (you might not need it). Serve immediately. Serves 4 hungries, 6 normals.

cornbread panzanella

Buttermilk-Lime Dressing
Adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

3/4 cups buttermilk
5 tabespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (about 2 large limes)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup finely minced fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup finely minced scallions
1/2 teaspoon salt

Whisk all of the ingredients together until combined.

heirloom summer tomatoes 1

Thin, Crispy Corn Bread
Adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

1 tablespoon lard or unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups stone-ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Grease a 12-inch skillet with one tablespoon of the lard or butter, leaving any excess in the pan, and place it in the oven.

In a large bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together. In another bowl, whisk the egg until frothy and then add the buttermilk and combine. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk thoroughly. Melt the remaining butter and whisk the butter into the batter.

While the fat in the large skillet is smoking, carefully remove the skillet from the oven and swirl the fat around to coat the bottom and sides evenly. Pour the batter into the skillet, allowing it to sizzle. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the top of the bread is golden brown and the edge has pulled away from the sides. Remove from the oven and let cool.

heirloom tomato cornucopia

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