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Panzanella Salad

If I were to make this salad the classic way, I would leave well enough alone and include only Italian bread and garden-fresh tomatoes tossed in a vinaigrette. The bread would be a hearty, artisan variety with a crunchy crust like a ciabatta, boule or even a baguette. As well, with the classic version the bread used would be stale (you know; the ends left from dinner). But if you enjoyed all the bread last evening just toast some more in the oven for 15 minutes or so until crunchy and barely browned.

As for the tomatoes, August is the time for this salad as they are vibrant and delicious! Most likely you can get your hands on a couple of heirloom varieties either from your garden or a farmer’s market. The juiciness of these nightshades is also a plus as the tomato liquor will blend with the vinaigrette, adding another layer of complexity to the salad.

Of course, you can make your salad the classic way using only tomatoes and bread. Or, you can add other ingredients to your own taste. Thinly sliced shallots or red onions, cucumbers, and bell peppers could be options. There’s nothing stopping you either from adding chucks of amazing mozzarella, salt-packed anchovies, or canned imported tuna. Though, I wouldn’t recommend adding every optional ingredient listed below to the same salad.

4 ounces crusty bread torn or cut into 1-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
3 tablespoons or so extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, more to taste
2 pounds very ripe tomatoes, preferably a mix of heirloom varieties
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallot or red onion (optional)
6 ounces fresh mozzarella, torn or cut into bite-size pieces (optional)
1/2 cup thinly sliced English or Kirby cucumber (optional)
1/4 -1/2 preserved lemon, pith removed and thinly sliced (optional)
1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, sliced (optional)
1 tablespoon capers, drained (optional)
Anchovies (optional)
Sliced Boiled eggs (optional)
Red Pepper Flakes (optional)

Vinaigrette
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic (optional)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard or to taste
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup (give or take) good quality extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or thyme (or a combination)
1/2 cup torn basil leaves
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped

Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Spread the bread cubes on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with 2 tablespoons oil and a pinch of salt. Bake until they are dried out and pale golden brown at the edges, about 7 to 15 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

Cut tomatoes into bite-size pieces and transfer to a large bowl.

To make the vinaigrette in a medium bowl, whisk together the garlic (if using), mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture is thickened. Stir in the fresh herbs that you are adding.

Add bread cubes, tomatoes, and any optional ingredients and toss well. Dress with the vinaigrette (you may not need all of it).

Let sit for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours before serving. Taste for seasoning and toss with a little more vinaigrette and salt if needed just before serving.