Summer is right around the corner, and with that comes cookouts, barbecues, camping and vacations. I typically loathe the hot weather, but I’m actually looking forward to it this year.
Next weekend I’m going on a camping trip with friends to my most favorite place on the planet: Chickasaw National Recreation Area. It’s a beautiful oasis tucked away in the Arbuckle mountains in South-Central Oklahoma.
I first went there when I was a kid, and have been going back sporadically ever since. The crystal clear spring waters and beautifully built waterfalls just call my name year after year. We’ll be camping on the lake, but we will definitely be spending a lot of time at the gorgeous springs and creeks.
Of course, it has been forever since I’ve camped, so I had to buy all sorts of camping gear. Tent, air mattress, pump, rope, playing cards, hot dogs and brats—you name it, I now own it. It’s been so long since I camped that I’m afraid I’ll forget something. Hopefully we don’t get mauled by any rogue rabid raccoons….
This camping trip officially kicks off the summer of fun 2017. I don’t have much else planned for the summer except for a quick day trip to Kansas City to see the eclipse in August. Other than that—it’ll just be a bunch of hanging out outdoors and cooking up great summer foods.
To get in the summer spirit, I made one of my favorite Italian side dishes last night: caprese panzanella salad. I typically make this dish when I cook chicken piccatta for my mom. We both love it—it’s nice and hearty and has a wonderfully simple flavor.
If left to my own intentions, I could devour the entire 13×9″ baking dish of this “salad”. Is there anything more beautiful than seeing melty mozzarella string out like this?
You only need a handful of ingredients to make this salad—and that’s really the beauty of it. Italians are brilliant. With just a few ingredients they can make a masterpiece for your mouth. Balsamic vinegar, garlic, basil, tomatoes, and cheese—what an excellent flavor combination.
Baked Caprese Panzanella Salad
An Italian classic baked with slices of country white bread.
- 2 large tomatoes, sliced
- 2 TBS. balsamic vinegar
- 16 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup basil leaves, roughly torn
- salt and pepper
- 1 TBS. olive oil, plus more for brushing
- 4 slices thick country white bread
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush a large 13×9″ baking dish with olive oil. Place tomato slices in a single layer in baking dish. Season with salt and pepper.
- Drizzle balsamic vinegar over tomatoes. Lay cheese slices on top of the tomatoes in a single layer. Sprinkle more salt, pepper, and garlic over cheese.
- Sprinkle basil leaves on top of cheese, then drizzle with about a teaspoon of olive oil.
- Place bread slices on top of cheese and brush with olive oil. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until bread is crispy and golden brown, and cheese is melted. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Tear basil into pieces and mince garlic. Brush a 13×9″ baking dish with olive oil.
Place tomato slices in a single layer in baking dish. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle balsamic vinegar over the tomatoes.
Place cheese slices on top of tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle garlic over cheese.
Sprinkle torn basil over cheese…
…then top with bread slices. Brush olive oil over bread and bake, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes or until bread is crispy and golden brown and cheese is melted. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.