A good bread salad soaks up the juices from the tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar and all the other seductive flavors that go into a really top-flight panzanella, and I love it! The tomatoes should be juicy and the bread bakery-fresh, with a pleasingly soft crumb and chewy crust. My recipe not only calls for the best tomatoes and bread, but also relies on green, fruity, extra-virgin olive oil, zesty red wine vinegar, salty capers and freshly grated lemon zest. (I use a microplane when I zest citrus fruit and I highly recommend you do the same.) I also add other vegetables such as red onion, bell peppers and fennel, garden-fresh basil, and some inky black olives for a salad bursting with summer — even when it’s chilly outside.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
In a bowl, toss the bread with the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
Spread the bread on a baking sheet and bake for 7 to 10 minutes, until slightly crisp.
(The pieces should not be as crispy as croutons.)
Alternatively, spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and let them dry, uncovered, for about 24 hours.
In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, capers, zest and garlic.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Whisking constantly, add the extra-virgin olive oil in a stream until well incorporated.
Add the onion, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumber, fennel and olives and toss with the vinaigrette.
Adjust the salt and pepper.
Tear the fennel fronds and add them to the bowl along with the basil and bread.
Toss to coat.
Set aside for 20 minutes.
Divide the salad among 4 plates.
Garnish each plate with shaved cheese and serve.
If you prefer a moister salad, drizzle with a little more extra-virgin olive oil.