Let me introduce you to panzanella. It is a rustic Italian tomato-bread salad, and it's a delicious way to use garden fresh tomatoes. Panzanella originated in the Tuscan countryside, where peasants needed a way to use stale bread. Today, you can make the recipe your own with all kinds of yummy add-ins. Here's what I did.
6 c. rustic Italian bread OR 1 whole French baguette, cut into chunks*
1/2 c. olive oil, divided
3/4 tsp. salt, divided
3 large, juicy vine-ripened tomatoes (3 to 4 inches in diameter)
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. pepper
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded and thinly sliced
2 ounces crumbled feta cheese
3 Tbsp. drained capers (optional)
1/4 c. chopped fresh basil
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss bread chunks with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Arrange bread in single layer on baking sheet and bake on middle oven rack for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Bread will be hardened and crisp and golden when done.
Meanwhile, cut tomatoes into chunks and put in a colander over a large measuring cup or dish to drain and catch juices. Toss tomatoes with 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir periodically, letting drain for at least 15 minutes. Try to reserve 1/2 cup juices.
Whisk remaining 6 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar, sugar and pepper into reserved tomato juices to create a vinaigrette. Toss thoroughly with toasted bread pieces and let stand 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, cucumber, green onions, feta, capers, basil, or whatever your heart desires. Serve immediately.
*Choose a bread that is dense and crusty, not fluffy like French bread.