Pickled shrimp are a Southern favorite for even the most modest alfresco summer occasion, a solid recommendation for your next kegger. Use nothing smaller than a 26/30 count shrimp, though 21/25 is ideal. Boil, peel, and if you’re the persnickety type, devein. For five pounds of shrimp, mix with two white onions (yellow are too sweet, and red will bleed) thinly sliced, a few fresh bay leaves, a cup of diced sweet pickled red peppers, a cup of rice vinegar, a cup of vegetable oil, a small jar of capers (with liquid), two tablespoons of good Italian herb blend, and a tablespoon of coarse black pepper. Toss until shrimp are coated, cover, and chill overnight. In season, add diced ripe summer tomatoes before spooning over leaf greens and drizzling with marinade.
Bread salads have been popular for a long time, particularly around the Mediterranean, where they’re known as panzanelea in France, panzanella in Italy, dakos in Greece (Crete, more specifically), and fattoush in Lebanon. Having said that, note that most modern versions use tomatoes, which with the exception of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, have only been around for about 300 years. Greens are rarely used for the simple reason that leaf vegetables tend to be cool-weather crops, and the breads are made into croutons of some sort. It’s best made with tomatoes, cucumbers and young onions at their peak, which makes it a perfect dish for that summer luncheon or porch supper. Most recipes recommend using a baguette, but it’s really good with cornbread croutons, too. Whatever you do, DON’T make that abominable layered apparatus you might find; bread salad should be made on the table.
Cut bread into 1/2-inch cubes, enough to make about four cups. Heat a large pan or skillet over medium heat, add about 1/2 cup olive oil and a good dash of salt. Cook, tossing occasionally, until crisp and browned, about 2 minutes. Drizzle with a little more oil before setting aside on a plate to cool. Drain and cube tomatoes; cherry or grape tomatoes can simply be halved. Dice red and/or green onions; some people like a sweet bell pepper, too, but this recipe is not conductive to a lot of heat. Mix vegetables in a large bowl with fresh shredded basil (not too much!). Serve croutons and vegetables separately with a good vinaigrette, and toss at the table before serving. It should go without saying that this salad does not keep.
Within living memory, this simple dish was a staple on meat-and-three menus throughout the rural South. Juice from the vegetables stirred with oil and vinegar make a mild, flavorful vinaigrette best with beans or cold meats. I love to use it in the old three-bean-salad, and it’s great with fish or shellfish.
Use fresh vegetables; supermarket tomatoes don’t have enough of that wonderful gelatin surrounding the seeds, and those cucumbers are too watery. Sweet yellow onions spoil the bite, and red onions discolor the mix; white boilers are best. Cut vegetables into bite-sized pieces, place in a glass or ceramic bowl and toss with a generous salting and a good bit of fresh ground black pepper. Resist the temptation to use garlic and/or herbs. Add enough white vinegar to cover the vegetables by half and half that amount of corn oil. Do not use olive oil, which will coagulate when refrigerated. Refresh the mix with vegetables, seasonings, and liquids as needed.