There is not much better than a perfect tomato. Sometimes it is important to be reminded of the beauty and perfection that is an heirloom tomato, golden beets, or just-picked sweet corn. Every week this summer I have been reminded time and time again. Reminded why I love food and why I found my comfort zone in a kitchen. Reminded that great food is synonymous with great product. Reminded that I can do my best by simply not messing up the naturally amazing flavors.
Once a week the restaurant receives a delivery from Local Foods, a distributor of only local, organic farms. The delivery includes heirloom cherry tomatoes from Miller Farm of Viroqua, Wisconsin, pasture-raised grass fed beef from Hoosier Ranch of Attica, Indiana, coincidentally a town about 20 minutes away from my hometown, and mushrooms from River Valley Ranch of Burlington, Wisconsin. I get to peruse through a produce list, changing from week to week to reflect the bounty of the best soil in the world: Japanese eggplant an alluring shade of dark purple, zebra striped zucchini, golden summer squash, hot-to-the-touch jalapenos.
It is easy to become stressed from work, but it is the produce that keeps me coming back. And because I keep on keeping on, I have created summer squash soup, beet and fennel salad, eggplant caponata, and zucchini cous cous. When I grow weary, it takes but one heirloom cherry tomato to bring it all back. And that was actually the inspiration for today’s post, a shipment from more than a month ago that included the best tomatoes I’ve ever had, a stunning collection of purple, green, multicolored heirloom cherry tomatoes, as well as golden summer squash so rich in color it was striking. With such quality ingredients, a fresh, vibrant salad was easy to create with some extra elements to add crunch in the form of apple, balance the sweetness with bitter frisee, and give great depth with a lemon and thyme vinaigrette.
I was proud to feature this salad at my workplace for a mere $7.50, as seen here, and so happy with the end result that I replicated it at home, with one extra ingredient for my pleasure, grass fed steak from a quick visit to Whole Foods. I was chatting with one of the butchers at the counter and he introduced me to a version of a hanger steak that I had never seen, the hanging chuck, a cut with ample marbling, flavor to match any expensive cut, and an affordable price point at $9/lb. When cooked to medium rare, rested for 5-8 minutes, and cut against the grain, it’s easy to see why they call the hanger steak a butcher’s cut, one of those hidden gems the average cook probably doesn’t appreciate enough.
Grilled Summer Squash Panzanella Salad – 3 servings
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp dijon
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme
- 3/4 cup olive oil
Combine lemon juice and zest, vinegar, honey, garlic, and dijon. Pulse with a hand blender. Slowly drizzle in oil with hand blender mixing to create an emulsion, season to taste with salt, pepper, and honey. Set aside.
- 1 red pepper
- 1/4th red onion, thinly julienned
- 1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 heads frisee, cleaned and soaked in cold water
- 1 apple, julienned
- feta, crumbled
- 1 zucchini, sliced on bias
- 1 summer squash, sliced on bias
- 1/2 baguette, diced
- 1 lb hanger steak
Preheat oven to 250. Roast pepper over open fire on all sides, then cover in a container with plastic wrap for 20 minutes. Peel the skin and remove the seeds. Dice roasted pepper. Toss bread with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then toast in the oven for 10 minutes, stirring once halfway. Set aside to cool. Finish other prep.
Preheat grill pan on medium high heat. Season hanger steak liberally with salt and pepper, then place on grill pan for 2-3 minutes per side, depending on thickness, for medium rare. Let rest for at least 7-10 minutes, then slice against the grain to ensure tenderness. While the steak is resting. toss the zucchini and summer squash in the lemon thyme vinaigrette, then place on the grill pan for 2-3 minutes per side, or until tender.
Combine the red pepper, red onion, tomatoes, feta, apple, and bread in a large bowl and toss with the vinaigrette to taste. Plate the salad, then circle the salad with the zucchini and summer squash, alternating from one to the other. For the meat eaters, place sliced steak on top and drizzle with more vinaigrette. Enjoy!