by Melina Hammer


uests to Melina Hammer's summer table are always in for a treat. As cookbook author, food photographer, and co-owner of Catbird Cottage in Accord, NY, Melina is keenly attuned to detail: whether its customizing menus for guests, inspiring hunger pangs through her popular Instagram profile, or trialing new edibles in the kitchen garden. The Catbird Cottage garden is where Melina grows many of the fresh ingredients for her otherworldly meals, including heirloom tomatoes and fresh herbs for recipes like Panzanella (below).

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serves 2-4

After drizzling the torn bread all over to soak in the olive oil, I skillet-fry it in additional oil. The crunchy, almost-charred exterior, paired with the juicy oil-soaked interior offers an unexpected delight when digging in. Keep the Panzanella in its respective ingredient clusters for dramatic presentation, or toss it all together in a pile and let your guests feast on the results.

1 smallish loaf good crusty bread, torn into bite-sized chunks and left to sit for a day or two

5 large heirloom tomatoes such as Green Zebras, Cherokee Purples, Yellow Pineapples, or Brandywines, cut into wedges
1-2 cups Sungold tomatoes, cut into halves
3-5 chive blossoms, individual blossoms picked apart - you may use shallots cut into wedges and slowly sautéed until soft and translucent, or thinly shaved red onion as a substitute
2 cups fresh basil leaves, rinsed and patted dry
Good extra virgin olive oil for soaking, drizzling, and frying
Red wine vinegar
Kosher salt, flake sea salt, and freshly cracked black pepper

Lay the bread out on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Over medium-high heat in a cast iron skillet, add another glug of olive oil, and using tongs to turn the bread, brown it on all sides. Lower the heat to medium halfway through so as not to burn any pieces and re-drizzle oil if you see the pan smoking. It's fine if some of the pieces become charred, but these parts should be more an accent than the norm. As you finish browning, empty the pan of even the crumbs - those crunchy bits will be great in the mix - onto whatever serving platter you have chosen. Arrange the ingredients in piles: all the tomatoes in a colorful array, the bread, then the basil. Scatter the chive blossoms (or allium of your choice) around. Mix together a 2:1 ratio of olive oil and red wine vinegar in a small bowl, add a small pinch of kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper, and whisk together to emulsify. Taste and adjust seasoning to your taste, spoon dressing over all, saving a little for table side. Sprinkle panzanella with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and dig in.