This panzanella has roasted fresno chiles and shallots, which pack some sweet heat, and a cool, creamy dressing to go with a mess of juicy, ripe tomatoes and salty, crisp croutons.
Pack the dressing in its own little jar so that you can toss just before serving, and then add chunks of avocado to up the creamy-cool factor. Serves 4 to 6
3/4 cup (175ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1 loaf sourdough or ciabatta bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (12 to 13 ounces, 340-370g)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 red Fresno chiles or red jalapeños
2 shallots, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup (120ml) plus 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1/4 cup (60ml) fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 large heirloom tomatoes (1 pound, 450g), cored and cut into irregular bite-size chunks
1 large ripe avocado
Heat your oven to 400°/200°C and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Put the bread in a big bowl, drizzle with ¼ cup of the olive oil, and season with a big pinch of salt and pepper. Toss to evenly coat with the oil, then spread evenly over the baking sheet. Bake the bread cubes, stirring every few minutes to make sure it toasts evenly, until the bread cubes are golden brown and crunchy, about 15 minutes. Rake the bread cubes back into the bowl you tossed them in and set them aside to cool.
Preheat the broiler. Arrange the chiles and shallots slices on the same baking sheet you just used and broil, turning the vegetables every few minutes, until the chiles are evenly blackened all over, about 10 minutes. The shallots won’t blacken much, but will get tender and concentrated in flavor. Using tongs, transfer the chiles to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let them steam for about 20 minutes. Let the shallots cool completely on the baking sheet.
Make the vinaigrette: Combine the remaining 1/2 cup (120ml) of the olive oil with the chives, lemon juice, and Dijon mustard in a blender and puree it until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and pour into a small, lidded container and refrigerate until ready to use.
Use a few paper towels to rub off the blackened skin from the chiles. Split them open with your fingers (wear gloves if you’re worried about the chiles burning your fingers) and scrape out the seeds and ribs. Tear the chile flesh strips into small pieces or roughly chop them.
To pack the salad for a picnic, pile the tomatoes, chiles, and shallots in the bottom of a large salad bowl and cover with the croutons in one layer. Wrap in plastic wrap and bring the vinaigrette and avocados separately. When you’re ready to serve, pour all the vinaigrette all over the salad. Use a knife (don’t forget to pack a knife) to hack into the avocado, then lob off bite-size pieces of the flesh into the salad bowl. Toss it all together and serve before the croutons get soggy.