Traditional panzanella is made by soaking rock-hard pieces of stale bread in ice water and squeezing them dry, then tossing them with chunks of tomato in a vinaigrette. Instead, Michael Romano creates a crouton-based version by cutting day-old bread into cubes, coating them with olive oil and toasting them. The bread goes from wonderfully crisp to satisfyingly chewy as it soaks up the succulent juices and tangy dressing.
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8 ounces day-old sourdough bread with crust, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (4 cups)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 red bell pepper
2 large tomatoes, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch dice
1 small fennel bulb, tops trimmed, bulb very thinly sliced
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 cup brined black olives, such as Gaeta or Calamata, pitted and coarsely
1/4 cup loosely packed shredded basil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
How to Make It
Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large bowl, toss the bread with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Spread the bread on a baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes, or until nicely toasted. Let cool, then return to the bowl. Put the pine nuts on the baking sheet and bake for 3 minutes, or until golden. Add to the croutons in the bowl.
Roast the bell pepper over a gas flame or under the broiler until charred all over. Transfer the pepper to a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let cool slightly. Peel and seed the pepper and cut it into 3/4-inch dice. Add the bell pepper to the croutons along with the tomatoes, fennel, onion, olives and basil.
In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar with the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil. Season the dressing with salt and pepper and pour it over the salad. Toss and let stand for 5 minutes, then serve.
The tossed salad can be covered with plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for up to 2 hours.
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