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If any one dish symbolizes the glory and versatility of summer tomatoes, I'd place my vote with panzanella. The Italian classic needs nothing more than some stale bread, a few pantry staples, and a load of tomatoes to make an incredible dish, even if it's not much of a meal. Usually it's served as a side to grilled meat, which is all well and good, but could it stand up on its own?
I'd seen mozzarella added to the mix to help bulk it out, so I decided to explore that route. But considering I'm a whole lot closer to Wisconsin than to Italy, I found it a lot easier to track down cheese curds.
The hyper fresh cheese (best eaten within a day of creation) is mild, but has a pleasing squeakiness that I knew would provide a great textural counterpoint to the panzanella. Sadly, besides the texture, when I just tossed them in a bowl with the tomatoes and bread, they didn't do much else. Could I cook them? Golden and crispy fried cheese curds popped in my mind, though I ultimately couldn't bring myself to deal with bubbling oil for such a summery meal. Instead I took a tip from local farmers' markets, and decided to cook them on a cast-iron grill pan.
This was not without its own issues. If the heat is too high, the cheese melts on contact. The crispy leftovers are certainly delicious, but I wanted to have the best of both worlds: crispy, browned edges and some of the fresh cheese. By grilling them over medium-low heat on only one side, I managed to hit the sweet spot. Without the time to wait around for bread to go stale, I also decided to toast it on a cast-iron grill pan. In the end, the heirloom tomatoes are still the stars, but the cheese adds a nice savory edge, making this a filling and satisfying meal.