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by Jane Worthington-Roth

The term “leftover bread” is an oxymoron at our house – similar to the concept of “leftover wine” – no way! When I have some extra bread that’s looking for a second chance, I often pulse it into fresh breadcrumbs and freeze for later use.

But another great way to use up bread is to take a cue from Tuscan grandmothers and make Panzanella. In its purest form, Panzanella includes chunks of stale bread and tomatoes, dressed with a heavy dose of oil and vinegar. It sometimes includes cucumbers, basil, red onions, capers, cheese and even anchovies.

A couple of months ago I had a delicious Panzanella Salad at my friend Zoe’s house. Her recipe was the perfect balance between toasted, yet chewy croutons, fresh crunchy vegetables and a lemony dressing. It looked – and tasted - like spring. I could have consumed the entire bowlful! Her dish began with a recipe from Smitten Kitchen, but as is often the case, Zoe tweaked the recipe into her own delicious creation by making it with tomatoes and asparagus.

This time of year, Farmers Markets are overflowing with a variety of tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh herbs. Buy a couple pounds of your favorites and make a Panzanella for lunch. As you can imagine, the most colorful selection makes the prettiest Panzanella. Markets in the Berkshires often sell fresh bread as well. I like to use Ciabatta or Sourdough for this dish.

The recipe below begins by making the croutons and vinaigrette using the Smitten Kitchen’s delicious Spring Panzanella recipe.

For the croutons
Preheat oven to 400°F.
In a large bowl, mix together:
6 cups of day-old bread (crust removed and cut into 1-inch cubes)
2 cloves of finely chopped garlic
¼ cup olive oil
6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese.
Toss well to combine. Transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet and top with a little salt and pepper. Bake for about 10 minutes until the croutons are little crisp and lightly browned, but still soft within. Set aside to cool.

For the vinaigrette
In a small bowl, mix together:
½ red onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
Juice of half a lemon
Let the mixture sit for a few minutes before whisking in:
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

For the salad
2 pounds of mixed ripe tomatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
½ cup cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
¼ cup chopped fresh herbs (basil, parsley, chervil or combination of your favorites)
1 tablespoon capers, drained (optional)

Prepare the croutons and set aside. You’ll eventually add the bread to soak up the vinaigrette, but you don’t want it to sit too long and get mushy.

Put the salad ingredients into a large bowl and pour on the vinaigrette. Let this sit for a while, stirring occasionally, so the flavors will meld.

About 30 to 60 minutes before serving, add the croutons and toss well, then set aside until ready to serve. You can add in a little more olive oil or vinegar, if needed, before serving.