Tomatoes may be a New World fruit, but this summer salad was born in Italy. It’s just the thing to make when ripe garden tomatoes are piling up on the countertops — and ripe they must be, so the juices will sink into the chunks of bread. Slightly stale bread is often recommended, but use fresh bread if you have it, and crisp it a bit, if you desire, in a hot oven. Most importantly, use great ripe tomatoes, organic and homegrown (or at least grown locally), and the best bread you can find — crusty, rustic and absorbent. This is a sensual dish, best made more so with your fingers than with tools.
Panzanella Salad Recipe
• 8 cups bread with the crusts left on, cubed or torn apart
• 1 clove of garlic, grated or pressed
• 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• Dash of salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 3 to 4 ripe tomatoes, or enough to make about 4 cups, coarsely chopped
• 2 ripe bell peppers (preferably orange or yellow), seeds removed, coarsely chopped
• 3 scallions, both green and white parts, chopped
• 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, left whole if small, torn into pieces if large
1. Place the bread in a large salad bowl. Add the garlic to the olive oil, and sprinkle over the bread, along with the salt and pepper. Toss thoroughly to mix.
2. Peel the tomatoes by pouring boiling water over them, so the skins slip right off. Chop coarsely, or pull them apart with your fingers, and then add them to the bowl of bread and toss again. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes, but do not refrigerate.
3. Taste, and add more salt and pepper if needed. Add the peppers and scallions, then mix again. Stir in the fresh basil just before serving at room temperature.
Try more hot-weather treats: Read Fresh Summer Recipes: Cooking With Basil, Green Beans and Tomatoes.
Barbara Damrosch farms and whips up creative, fresh summer recipes with her husband, Eliot Coleman, at their Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine. She is the author of The Garden Primer and, with Coleman, of The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.