Country Panzanella With Watermelon Dressing

Country Panzanella With Watermelon Dressing

Country Panzanella With Watermelon Dressing

"Whether enjoyed simply or with a sprinkle of salt, fresh watermelon evokes memories of warm weather. In the U.S., particularly in the American South, skilled gardeners cultivate heirloom (seeded) varieties such as Sugar Baby, Jubilee, and Georgia Rattlesnake. In Apex, N.C., Gabrielle E.W. Carter now oversees her maternal great-grandfather's property, where she cultivates herbs, tomatoes, and watermelon.
As a multimedia artist, she documents the culinary traditions of Black families in Eastern North Carolina, preserving cooking techniques with garden-fresh fruits and vegetables. The crimson-fleshed watermelon adds a subtly sweet twist to the classic panzanella salad, enhanced by a textured dressing achieved with a coarse grater. Bocconcini can substitute for feta cheese in this salad, complementing hearty dishes like dry-rubbed mushrooms and spicy tamarind pork ribs." — Nicole Taylor, Yewande Komolafe
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 8


For the Dressing

  • ½ pound piece of skin-on watermelon seeds discarded
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 garlic cloves peeled and grated
  • 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • ½ teaspoon red-pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ cup white wine vinegar
  • ½ cup olive oil

For the Salad

  • ½ loaf day-old ciabatta cut into ½-inch cubes (about 4 loose cups)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 pounds watermelon rind discarded cut into 1-inch pieces (about 4 packed cups)
  • 3 medium heirloom tomatoes about 1 ¾ to 2 pounds, cut into 1-inch-wide wedges (about 5 loose cups)
  • 1 medium seedless cucumber about ½ pound, trimmed, halved lengthwise then sliced ¼-inch-thick (about 2 cups)
  • 1 small red onion about 4 ounces, peeled and sliced (about 1 loose cup)
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • ½ cup crumbled feta


Step 1: Make the Dressing

  • Using a coarse grater set over a medium bowl, grate the watermelon flesh and rind, grating all the way to the skin. (You should have approximately 1 cup grated watermelon.) Discard the firm skin. Stir in sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt, stirring until the sugar and salt dissolve. Let the mixture sit for at least 10 minutes.

Step 2: Prepare the Dressing

  • Add garlic, mustard, thyme leaves, red pepper flakes, ground black pepper, vinegar, and oil. Whisk together thoroughly, or transfer to a mason jar, cover, and shake vigorously. The dressing yields 2 cups and can be refrigerated for up to 1 week; shake well before use.

Step 3: Make the Salad

  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. On a small sheet pan, toss cubed bread with olive oil, thyme, and sea salt. Spread in a single layer and bake for 8 to 10 minutes until toasted and golden brown.

Step 4: Assemble the Salad

  • In a large serving bowl, combine watermelon, tomatoes, cucumber, and red onion. Drain any excess liquid before adding toasted bread cubes and half of the basil. Drizzle with ¼ cup of the prepared dressing and season with salt and pepper. Optionally, divide into individual bowls. Top with crumbled feta, remaining basil leaves, and an additional spoonful of dressing.