Being raised in the South and now living on the West Coast has led to some quirky eating — my meals tend to be healthy, but occasionally I feel the need to add a bit of Southern comfort into the mix; especially after a long trip away from home. Take this gluten free panzanella — it' loaded with vibrant tomatoes, greens, and veggies, but when searching for a gluten free replacement for the traditional soaked stale bread in a panzanella I kept coming back to my grandfather's hushpuppies.
I spent summers growing up at my grandparent's in a little rural town just south of Nashville. My grandfather was known for his summer fish fry's - he would catch, clean, and fry all of the fish and my grandmother would make enough coleslaw and potato salad to feed an army. As my grandmother set the final touches on the buffet line my grandfather would drop a big batch of hushpuppies into the fry pot on the porch and I? I would anxiously await the opportunity to taste test the first one.
By the time the last hushpuppy cleared the oil, a crowd would have gathered. Neighbors, church friends, and sometimes even relatives we hadn't seen in quite some time all for the opportunity to share a delicious southern meal and play a hand of Rook. It was pure southern magic and exactly the sort of homegrown nostalgic food that I crave after being away from home for a while.
(a variety of colors and sizes works great)
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
sliced on the bias
Combine the garlic, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper in a jar. Place the lid tightly on the jar and shake vigorously to emulsify. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if desired. Set aside.
Spread the spinach out onto a large platter, set aside. Cut the tomatoes into bite sized wedges or pieces and place in a large mixing bowl with the red onion, cucumbers, and basil. Toss to combine. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette over the veggies and toss again.
Arrange the dressed vegetables over the bed of spinach. Nestle the hushpuppies amongst the veggies and drizzle the entire salad with another 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette. Serve immediately with any remaining vinaigrette on the side.
Food styling and photography by Aida Mollenkamp