Summer is the perfect time for panzanella, traditional Tuscan bread salad.

Summer is the perfect time for panzanella, traditional Tuscan bread salad.

This dish calls for coarse bread, but its vibrant color comes from fresh vegetables, which are pouring into local bins now. Check your farmers market for tomatoes, bell peppers, red onions and basil.  

Those are traditional ingredients, but this salad can include lots of items. It’s very flexible. At its simplest, panzanella is a mixture of tomatoes, bread and olive oil. Our recipe is more complex, based on suggestions from the Internet and the “Rogers Gray Italian Country Cook Book,” by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers of The River Café in London.

Build your own

Family tradition, cookbooks and the Web offer several more recipes. Some ask for hard-boiled eggs, hot peppers, even a combination of golden beets, walnuts and feta. One uses cornbread instead of the ciabatta in our version.

Another includes mushrooms, celery and carrots. You may decide to add flaked tuna instead of the anchovies in the salad here.    

Speaking of anchovies, European-based recipes call for the ones packed in salt, but we’re using fillets in oil, which seem to be common in U.S. supermarkets.

Pull off the anchovy bristles, rinse off the oil and chop the fillets before adding them to the other ingredients.

Rogers and Gray call for roasting the peppers, and when we get around to it, we’ll try that. Sounds delicious. But why heat up the kitchen when our unroasted version tastes so good?

Panzanella
• 8 ripe Roma tomatoes
• 2 garlic cloves, put through a press
• 8 anchovy fillets, de-bristled, rinsed and finely chopped
• 6 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or more as needed
• 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed
• 1/8 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Pinch black pepper, or to taste
• 16 ounces (about 8 cups, gently packed) heavy-textured white bread, at least a day old, cut into bite-size chunks
• 1 red bell pepper, washed, seeded and cut into bite-size pieces
• 1 yellow bell pepper, washed, seeded and cut into bite-size pieces
• 1/3 to 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced and separated into rings
• 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
• 1/2 cup black olives, pitted
• 6 to 8 large leaves of basil, shredded



Place a large strainer over a bowl. Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze their juice, seeds and pulp into the strainer. Discard the seeds and pulp. Into the tomato juice stir the pressed garlic, chopped anchovies, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.
   
Combine the bread cubes and the tomato juice mixture; stir and press down so the bread absorbs all the juice. If the bread cubes seem dry in spots, combine a little more oil and vinegar and stir into the mix. The bread should be succulent, but not drippy.
   
Chop the tomato shells into bite-size pieces. Place these in a large bowl with the prepared peppers, red onion, capers, olives and basil. Toss gently. Stir in the flavored bread cubes.
   
Garnish with extra basil leaves, if desired. Serve at room temperature.
Makes 4 to 5 meal-size servings.