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Meatless Monday: Panzanella

Today’s better-than-meat meal for Meatless Monday is panzanella, an Italian bread and tomato salad. When I was a kid, summer meals in my Italian family included garden-fresh tomato salad, and if you finished all of your dinner, you’d get to sop up the garlicky tomato juice with Italian bread. (Summer meals were also eaten in the garage — garage door removed and replaced with a screen — a tradition I still don’t understand.) I didn’t hear about panzanella until I was grown up (and no longer eating in garages), but panzanella is the same idea, except the salad is served with the bread right in it. It soaks up the juices, and you don’t have to finish the rest of your meal to reap the rewards.

Panzanella is a great way to use up all of the summer tomatoes that are flooding the markets and overflowing in backyard gardens, and it’s also a good use for the stale bread that’s sitting on the counter from the weekend. The only other ingredients you’ll need are onions, oil, vinegar and basil, but you can add your favorite stuff to your salad, like peppers, cucumbers or fresh mozzarella.

David Rocco’s Panzanella comes together in minutes with just 6 ingredients (plus salt and pepper), but it’s best made ahead so the flavors meld.

Panzanella: Tuscan Bread Salad

8 slices day old Tuscan-style or hearty bread
10 cherry tomatoes, halved (about 2/3 cup)
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 fresh basil leaves
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Submerge the slices of day-old Tuscan-style bread in a bowl of water.

Use your hands to squeeze out all the water that the bread has absorbed. Break up the bread into small pieces and put into a large bowl.

Squeeze the cherry tomato juices into a small bowl before adding the tomato halves to the bread mixture.

Add the red onion, olive oil, and red wine vinegar to the bowl.

Tear up the basil leaves and toss into the salad mixture. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Toss well.

Let the salad rest in the refrigerator for a few hours for all the flavors to come together.

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