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James Peterson: Get green, then build your salad

The basic building block for a great salad? Greens, of course.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The basic building block for a great salad? Greens, of course.

But for James Peterson, what that means varies greatly by season.

"I usually start out with a standard combination of greens, one for winter, one for summer," said Peterson, whose cookbooks have won numerous James Beard awards. "In the winter, I use a combination of bitter greens, including frisee, treviso or radicchio di Cremona (the bulb kind we usually see), and endive, and a spicy mixture of equal parts basil leaves and rucula (baby radicchio) in the summer."

From there, it's all a matter of taste and inspiration.

"I then build on these mixtures, adding savory ingredients, eggs, tomatoes, avocados, green beans, anchovies or whatever suits my fancy," Peterson said in an email interview. "Basic salads can easily be converted into main courses by adding such things as sliced grilled steak or duck, chicken, slices of raw grilled tuna."

For AP's 20 Salads of Summer series, Peterson offered his version on the classic Italian bread and tomato salad from his just released cookbook, "Kitchen Simple."

"When I developed the panzanella salad consisting primarily of bread and tomatoes, I wanted the bread to retain its crunch and not get soggy, but at the same time I wanted it to absorb the juices from the tomatoes," he said. "To accomplish this, I saute the bread cubes in olive oil, which sort of seals them from moisture and keeps them crisp.

"The other element is, of course, the tomatoes, which must be super ripe. It's also important to seed the tomatoes so their juices don't overly dilute the salad sauce, a step omitted by many even experienced cooks. The salad should not only be a study in flavors, but also one of textures."



If you'd rather, the four large tomatoes can be replaced with about 32 cherry tomatoes.

Start to finish: 20 minutes

Servings: 4

Three 1/2-inch-thick slices crusty bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 cups)

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

4 medium tomatoes (peeled, if desired)

1 medium red or green bell pepper, roasted, peeled, then cut into strips

20 fresh basil leaves

12 anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained

5 tablespoons pitted and coarsely chopped brine-cured imported black olives

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

Salt and ground black pepper

In a large skillet over medium heat, toss the bread cubes with 3 tablespoons of the oil. Saute until the cubes brown slightly, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Cut the tomatoes in half crosswise and gently squeeze out the seeds. Chop the tomatoes into 1/2-inch chunks and put in a large bowl. Add the bread cubes, the remaining 3 tablespoons oil, the bell pepper, basil, anchovies, olives and vinegar. Toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper, then serve immediately.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 490 calories; 230 calories from fat (47 percent of total calories); 25 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 52 g carbohydrate; 13 g protein; 4 g fiber; 1,010 mg sodium.