I live in the Niagara region, a tooth of land jutting between lakes Ontario and Erie. It is an area renowned for its farmland and its abundant fields are one of the (many) reasons I call it home. Tomato season here stretches from mid-July to October, but the specific scent of a snapped tomato vine is the fragrance of hottest summer to me. When the season is high, there is such pleasure in popping an elfin Sun Gold between your molars, or wrapping audacious slices of Brandywine in cottony white bread with homemade mayonnaise and nippy cheddar.
Here, I have a tomato salad that has the tumbled look of a panzanella, but the craggy chunks of bread aren't given the opportunity to soak up the dressing. I've bulked it up a bit with halloumi – that firm, saline, squeaking cheese – but a mild, milky cheese could take its place. A torn wedge of unripened mozzarella or a creamy slump of burrata would be exceptional, as would a subtle chèvre. Do not feel hamstrung by the basil and parsley; if the market or garden is overgrown with chives, dill or similar soft herbs, they can be twirled into the dressing as well or instead. Or, chop the herbs by hand and include a filet or two of anchovy, which will bring the dressing closer to a (brawnier) Green Goddess variety.
I've written this up with an oven in mind, just in case weather keeps you from cooking outdoors. But if the sun is on your side, this can be done over a campfire or barbecue. Instead of tearing the bread into croutons, grill fat slabs until the crust starts to blacken and the crumb is good and tiger-striped. Slice the lemons thick and they can be grilled as well – same goes for the cheese. But if you are nervous about either, place foil over the grates or pop a cast-iron skillet on the fire for the halloumi. Assemble as before, tearing the toasts before serving, or perching the whole production atop one proud tranche per person.
Servings: 4 to 6
Bronzed halloumi and tomato salad
1½ pounds assorted heirloom tomatoes
1 small zucchini, sliced into thin rounds
Medium-grained kosher salt, as needed
½ loaf rustic French bread, about 8 ounces, torn½ cup olive oil, plus more as needed
Freshly ground black pepper
2 lemons, preferably organic, well scrubbed8 ounces halloumi, sliced
¾ cup basil leaves, loosely packed
¼ cup flat-leafed parsley, loosely packed
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Pinch of sugar or honey, if needed
Dried chili flakes
Preheat an oven to 425°F.
Cut the tomatoes into a variety of shapes; small ones can be halved, larger ones cut into slices and wedges. Different cuts will bring texture to the salad. Gently fold the tomatoes with the zucchini in a large bowl, along with a good sprinkling of salt. Tip the tomatoes into a colander then set it over the bowl. Leave aside while you prepare the rest of the salad.
Toss the bread with a generous glaze of olive oil, about 2 tablespoons. Season with salt and pepper. Scatter pieces on a small baking sheet.
Cut one lemon into thin rounds, removing any seeds; if you have a mandoline (or patience), slices about 1/8-inch thick is what you’re aiming for. Slice half of the second, and leave the last half whole. Coat the sliced lemons lightly with olive oil and arrange on another small baking pan or something similar. Place the half lemon alongside.
Place both sheet pans in the hot oven. Toast the bread until golden and crisp, 15 to 20 minutes, tossing once. Roast the lemon until touched with char and deeply caramelized, 12 to 15 minutes. When you open the oven to shuffle the bread, carefully remove the lemon half, using tongs. Set the lemon half aside to cool for a few minutes.
While the croutons and lemons are still in the oven, set a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet or a heavy nonstick one over medium-high heat. Without adding any oil, dry fry the halloumi until deeply coloured, about 1 minute each side. Work in batches as necessary. Arrange the slices on a serving dish.
Make the dressing by squeezing the juice from the roasted lemon into the carafe of an upright blender. Tear in the basil and parsley, then add a splash of vinegar, and 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, then puree. Taste, adjust seasoning and balance with more oil or vinegar as called for, and sweeten with sugar or honey if it’s too sharp. Run the machine again, then add a pinch of chili flakes.
Once the bread and lemon slices are sufficiently tanned, build the salad atop the halloumi. First arrange the tomatoes and zucchini, followed by the croutons and lemons. Top with dressing, offering more at the table. Eat immediately.