Grilled Bread Salad

Yield:
Makes 4 servings
Ingredients
  • 1 small baguette (about 8 ounces) or other crusty bread
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (good vinegar also works well)
  • 2 tablespoons diced shallot, scallion, or red onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic, optional
  • 1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup or more roughly chopped basil or parsley
  • With MINIMAL Effort:
  • Before grilling rub the bread, with a cut clove of garlic and/or brush it with some olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.
  • Add to the salad 1/4 cup chopped olives, 1 tablespoon capers, and/or 2 minced anchovy fillets.
  • For a one-dish meal, grill or broil some shrimp or boneless chicken alongside the bread, then add the chunks to the salad. Or add some leftover or canned tuna (the Italian kind, packed in olive oil) to the mix.
Directions

Start a gas or charcoal grill or preheat the broiler; the rack should be 4 to 6 inches from the heat source. Cut the bread lengthwise into quarters. Grill or broil the bread, watching carefully and turning as each side browns and chars slightly; total time will be less than 10 minutes.

While the bread cools, mix together the next five ingredients in a large bowl. Mash the tomatoes with the back of a fork to release all of their juices. Season to taste with salt and pepper to taste. Cut the bread into 1/2- to 1-inch cubes (no larger) and toss it with the dressing.

Let the bread sit for 20 to 30 minutes, tossing occasionally and tasting a piece every now and then. The salad is at its peak when the bread is fairly soft but some edges remain crisp, but you can serve it before or after it reaches that state. When it's ready, stir in the herb and serve.

With MINIMAL Effort:

Bread salad is a way of making good use of stale bread. The bread is softened, usually with water, olive oil, lemon juice, or a combination, then tossed with tomatoes and a variety of seasonings. Like many old-fashioned preparations created as a way to salvage food before it goes bad (count pickles and jam among these), bread salad has an appeal of its own. This is especially true in the summer, when good tomatoes are plentiful and may lead to the rather unusual problem of waiting around for bread to become stale.

Or, of course, making it stale. I'd always solved this problem by drying bread in the oven until I realized that using the grill or broiler would not only dry the bread more quickly but, by charring the edges slightly, add another dimension of flavor to the salad. This procedure is really the same as making toast--exposing the bread to direct heat (rather than the indirect heat of the oven) to brown it as well as dry it. There's another benefit to grilling the bread in order to dry it out: The added flavor makes it possible to strip the salad to its bare minimum.

This is a substantial salad, but it's still a side dish unless you're in the mood for a very light meal. Because it's juicy, almost saucy, and pleasantly acidic, this salad makes a nice accompaniment to simple grilled meat or poultry, and has a special affinity for dark fish such as tuna and swordfish.

The only tricks here involve timing. You must watch the bread carefully as you grill or broil it; a slight char is good, but it's a short step from there to burned bread. And the time you allow the bread to soften after tossing it with the seasonings varies some; keep tasting until the texture pleases you. If your tomatoes are on the dry side, you might add a little extra liquid, in the form of more olive oil and lemon juice, or a light sprinkling of water.


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