There’s nothing more delicious than a fresh garden tomato in the peak of summer. Why bury the flavors behind spices or sauce? Let the bright, juicy tang spring through naturally. Other than simply slicing those giant heirlooms on a plate and eating them raw, this is the best way to eat fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes.
This salad is inspired by the Italian “panzanella,” or tomato bread salad. It’s so simple! No cooking required. Yet, it’s elegant enough to serve to guests. After all, it’s utter indulgence to serve a brimming bowl filled with the ripest tomatoes. Use several varieties of tomatoes to add layers of flavors and colors to this perfect summer dish.
Traditional panzanella is made with stale bread. With this recipe you simulate stale bread by making garlicky croutons. It is an added step but one that raises the flavour level.
This salad is meant to be eaten the day it is made. It is still fine to eat the next day but the textures won't be the same as the bread will have gone soggy.
Cherry Tomato Bread Salad with Basil and Fresh Mozzarella
6 slices, 1/2 inch thick, ciabatta or other squat, chewy bread
2 Tbs. plus 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
30 basil leaves
1 small strip lemon zest, about 2 inches long, white pith removed
4 cups small cherry tomatoes (or other bite-size tomatoes, such as pear or grape) in assorted colors, halved
1 lb. small fresh mozzarella balls (about 1 inch in diameter)
1/4 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 400°F. Tear the bread into 1-inch pieces, pile them on a rimmed baking sheet, and drizzle with 2 Tbs. of the oil. Sprinkle with salt, toss, spread in a single layer, and bake, turning occasionally, until the bread cubes are golden and crunchy, 8 to 12 min. Set aside to cool.
Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Add the basil leaves and lemon zest and blanch for 5 seconds. Drain. Transfer the basil and zest to a blender and pulse a few times to chop the leaves. With the blender running, slowly add the remaining 1/3 cup oil through the lid’s fill hole and process for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the blender and continue to purée until smooth, 30 to 60 seconds.
In a large bowl, toss together the cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, and bread cubes. Let sit, tossing occasionally, for 20 min. Sprinkle with the chile flakes; season with salt and pepper to taste.