Bread Salad

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.

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