Summer bread salad (Panzanella)

Makes 6 servings

This salad makes a light meal on its own; or it can serve as the first course at an Italian-inspired dinner party. Use top-quality, juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes and rustic bread. Toast fresh bread to add crispness; the salad is also delicious using slightly stale (but not hard) bread cubes, which will soak up the dressing and soften to an appealing chewy texture.

For the bread

4 cups thick-crusted bread in ¾-inch cubes

For the red wine vinaigrette

¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon freshly pepper, or to taste

To complete the salad

1 pound plum tomatoes (about 4 medium-size), cut into ½-inch cubes
1 medium cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices; peel if the cucumber is waxed
¼ cup minced red onion
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, stems removed
2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
6 large Boston lettuce leaves
Freshly ground pepper for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet; toast for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until crisp and lightly browned. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, toss together the salad ingredients, except the lettuce leaves. Add the vinaigrette and toss again. Tastea and adjust the seasoning. Just before serving, toss in the bread cubes. Place a lettuce leaf on each plate and mound the salad into it.

Advance preparation

Covered and refrigerated, the vinaigrette will keep for up to 1 week. The salad can be tossed (without the bread cubes) several hours before serving; cover and refrigerate. Add the bread cubes and assemble the salads just before serving.