Panzanella (tomato-bread salad) and pappa al pomodoro (tomato-bread soup) both intimidated me as a home cook—until a couple of loaves of old bread forced me into trying them.
As it turns out, it’s pretty hard to combine decent tomatoes and decent bread and create something other than success. Previously, I had seen recipes that involved soaking stale bread in water and then wringing it out, which seemed kind of gross and elaborate. Turns out that none of that is really necessary—your bread doesn’t even have to be stale. You can dry it out in the oven or take your chances with fresh bread, which might not be authentic but has never disappointed me.
Here's my favorite basic tomato-bread salad. It’s fast, simple, and also luxurious. In fact, the grilled bread tips it over into decadence, but no one in my house is complaining.
- Yield:4 reasonable people, or 2 greedy people
- 1/2 pound country bread, cut into 3/4-inch slices (sourdough boule or cibatta will also work)
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 large beefsteak tomatoes, cut into 3/4-inch dice (about 4 cups)
- 1 cucumber, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch dice (about 2 cups)
- 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil, torn into bite-size pieces
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat a grill or cast-iron skillet to medium. Brush the bread slices on both sides with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Grill until lightly charred on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes. Let the bread cool slightly, then cut into large cubes.
In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes with the diced tomatoes, cucumber, and basil. Drizzle with the vinegar and the remaining 1/4 cup oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine and serve.