When I was a kid, my dad occasionally took us to Ponderosa for cheap steak and the all-you-can-eat salad bar. My salads always consisted of the same thing - a bit of lettuce, chopped up hard-boiled egg, cheddar cheese, Italian dressing, and a whole load of croutons. I don't know why my mother let me eat that. It wasn't that I didn't eat other vegetables as a kid, I definitely did, but I guess those were the items that my parents never put on salads at home, so it was a treat to me. And those croutons. So simple, so crunchy, so carby. To this day, salads are still often just a base for pouring croutons on. So the idea of a salad that is essentially all about the crouton is like finding someone who finally gets me. It's that classic Tuscan bread salad - Panzanella.
Brilliant in its simplicity, Panzanella is one of those great innovations clearly meant to use up leftover bread, but is so good that I'll deliberately leave out a fresh loaf to get a little stale. "Oh no, this bread got all stale, what am I going to do with it now? I guess I'll just have to make Panzanella." Recipe after the jump:
1 3/4 lb loaf of day-old, whole grain bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 5 cups)
3 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 medium cucumbers, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 medium red onion, sliced thinly in half moons
10 leaves fresh basil, shredded
For the dressing:
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 tsp dry oregano
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet and allow to toast in the oven for about 10 minutes until they have just begun to crisp on the outside. Remove bread from oven and set aside to cool while you assemble the rest of the salad. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the salad ingredients. Mix the dressing, pour over and toss. Allow the bread cubes to soak up the dressing for a few minutes before serving.