Italian Bread Salad
Believe it or not, my favorite bread salad is not actually a bread salad recipe, but a gazpacho recipe. The first time I made this gazpacho, I took a few bites of the mixture before blending and loved it so much I ended up eating half of it as a salad before blending the other half. Below is a link to the original recipe, and here are the modifications to make it a salad:
2 pounds tomatoes, preferrable a blend of heirlooms
1/2 pound country-style bread cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
1 red bell pepper, seeded, diced
1 cup chopped peeled English hothouse cucumber
1 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup Sherry wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
salt and pepper to taste
Working over a non-reactive bowl, chop tomatoes in half and give them a gentle squeeze to release some of their juices into the bowl, then finish slicing them into wedges. Mix tomatoes and remaining ingredients in same bowl. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour. Enjoy.
Three words of advice:
1. Don't substitute the sherry vinegar for another. Its flavor is simply irreplacable here.
2. Make far more than you need, blend the leftovers (with a bit of water if necessary) to make gazpacho.
3. But most importantly, only make this recipe with super-ripe tomatoes from the peak of summer, picked from your own garden or from a farmer's market. It'll never be good with winter tomatoes.
I developed my own version based on a recipe from my Food & Wine cookbook (1999). I like F&W for Italian recipes adapted for the American cook. This is not traditional since the bread is not soaked in water or milk first.
What I do: cube a loaf of de-crusted ciabatta bread, or another sturdy bread that doesn't have an overwhelming flavor and has some airiness. Drizzle with some good olive oil and toast in oven on low heat until crispy and golden.
While cubes are toasting, make a vinaigrette w/ balsamic, olive oil, lemon juice, anchovy paste (sub for salt), pepper, pinch of sugar. Make a good amt. since you really want to generously coat the bread and other ingred. For tomatoes, I like to use red grape tomatoes cut in half. Also use yellow for color when available. Also add kalamata olives, hand-torn basil, and shaved parmesan. If no parmesan, then I've used cubed feta which has been nice.
After toasted bread has cooled for few min., I combine everything and put in fridge for at least an hour for flavors to combine. Serve over a bed of arugula or greens. Great salad to bring to potlucks since it holds up well and gets more flavorful w/ time. Grape tomatoes may have ok flavor this time of year, but this dish is all about summer!