Aside from the bread, the key ingredient in this is ripe juicy tomatoes. Don't bother making this until you have some! I'm usually all for using tinned tomatoes, but this is one of those times when you can't. Don't bother either with the crisp tasteless supermarket value packs.
The recipe below is from River Cottage Bread Handbook, in the section Using Leftover Bread. I loosely followed this, using flat leaved parsley instead of basil and using dried out crusts of wholemeal bread from my bread bin. I did add capers, and although usually a fan, I didn't think they went too well with the salad and wouldn't bother to add them again. I didn't add sugar - it just seemed wrong! And I wouldn't worry about adding cucumber if I didn't have any to hand.
When my own tomatoes are ready to eat I will probably just make a big tomato salad with garlic instead of onion and leave the salt to draw out the juices of the tomatoes for about 20 minutes. Then I'll add my broken up crusts and leave for another 20 minutes if I can manage to wait that long.
River Cottage's Panzanella or Tuscan Bread Salad Recipe
About 500g stale white bread (ideally ciabatta or sourdough)
150ml extra virgin olive oil
1 large red onion
Finely chopped 1⁄2 cucumber, chopped quite small
4 good-sized ripe tomatoes, chopped quite small
A handful of small capers
25ml good-quality white wine vinegar, or cider vinegar
A pinch of caster sugar
salt and black pepper
A big bunch of basil, leaves only
Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.
In a roasting tray, toss the bread with half the olive oil then bake it, shaking the pan occasionally, until golden and crispy. You can miss out this step – many Italians would – but it adds texture and flavour, which I like.
When the bread has cooled, toss with the onion, cucumber, tomatoes (including all their juices) and capers in a large serving bowl.
In another bowl, whisk the rest of the olive oil together with the wine vinegar and sugar. Pour this dressing over the salad and season generously with salt and pepper. Tear the basil over and toss it all together. Taste for seasoning.
You can either serve the salad straight away, or leave it to stand at room temperature for an hour or so, to let the flavours blend.
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