Meatless Monday: Italian Bread Salad, or, Panzanella

I'm obsessed with tomatoes this time of year: the good, local, heirloom fruits are making themselves available at farmers' markets and in gardens, their perfect scent making me snacky all day long. Even on hot days, which this recipe from America's Test Kitchen is perfect for. Feel free to use stale bread for the crouton (that's probably what this salad was invented for, anyway) and if you don't live in some sort of air-conditioned ice palace, feel free to heat them up on the stove top rather than in the oven. It's an easy dish to personalize, too -- maybe some avocado is called for? Enjoy!

Photo courtesy America's Test Kitchen
Photo courtesy America's Test Kitchen

Serves 4
6 cups rustic Italian or French bread, cut or torn into 1-inch pieces (1/2 to 1 pound)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, cored, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and sliced thin
1 shallot, sliced thin
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss bread pieces with 2 tablespoons oil and ¼ teaspoon salt; arrange bread in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Toast bread pieces until just starting to turn light golden, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Gently toss tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt in large bowl. Transfer to colander and set over bowl; set aside to drain for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally.

Whisk remaining 6 tablespoons oil, vinegar, and ¼ teaspoon pepper into reserved tomato juices. Add bread pieces, toss to coat, and let stand for 10 minutes, tossing occasionally.

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Add tomatoes, cucumber, shallot, and basil to bowl with bread pieces and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

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