Bread salad doesn’t sound nearly as good as panzanella, but no matter the language, this simple dish provides a delicious solution for all those tomatoes. The always thrifty Italians have many uses for stale bread, and the more traditional versions call for plunging the old bread into cold water, then squeezing out the moisture. The result is a kind of pap that, while actually pretty tasty, isn’t much to look at. My approach lets you use only moderately stale bread, and even a freshly baked loaf would suffice.
Good bread is essential, and here in Portland you can use Ken’s country brown, Grand Central’s campangnola, New Seasons’ wheat levain, or a similar rustic, preferably whole wheat loaf. Toast or grill several slices (roughly one for each average size tomato you’re using) and rub both sides with a whole garlic clove. Cut them into largish bite-sized pieces and put them into a bowl large enough for the rest of the salad.
Chop an appropriate number of tomatoes, maybe a bit smaller than the bread, and add them to the bowl. I like a little allium bite, so dice a shallot or two and toss that in, too. I also like cucumbers in my panzanella, especially now when locally grown thinner-skinned varieties are in the market(sometimes marketed as Asian or European cukes). And I always peel and seed them, a bit more work but worth it since it keeps the salad from getting watery. So add some if you want.
Add several springs of fresh basil leaves, either whole or torn into smaller pieces. In a pinch, I’ve used a combination of fresh oregano and mint, and the result was tasty, but basil is the classic ingredient. Dress with extra virgin olive oil (roughly 2-3 tablespoons for each tomato) and about a quarter as much good wine vinegar (I use the Katz late harvest Zinfandel; and to be clear, the oil:vinegar ratio should be roughly 4:1), add a healthy pinch or two of flor de sal, toss and taste. Serve at room temperature.