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Cooling, colorful salad in the Tuscan style


Some of the best Italian cuisine is found in trattorie -- small cafes, typically family-owned and operated, often with modest menus and unpretentious wine lists. Dinner in a trattoria might begin with an aperitif and antipasti, then a small first course of soup, pasta or risotto; a second course of fish, poultry or meat, with vegetables or salad served separately; followed perhaps by fresh fruit or cheese; and ending with espresso.

One of the most popular trattoria specialties is Tuscan bread salad (panzanella). This cooling, colorful salad is a summer standard. (Note that the cubed bread must dry overnight and the vegetables must marinate at least 2 hours.)

Tuscan Bread Salad

Serves 4 generously

1/2 loaf day-old dense country-style bread

3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced

1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced

1 small red onion, in paper-thin rings

1/4 cup diced giardiniera (Italian-style pickled vegetables)

3 tablespoons drained small capers

1/2 cup minced parsley

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

1 ounce anchovy fillets, minced (optional)

2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano

1 cup olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

additional red onion slices, for garnish

black olives, for garnish (optional)

additional anchovy fillets, for garnish (optional)

3 tablespoons minced parsley, for garnish

Cut bread into 1-inch cubes. Spread cubes out on a tray and let sit overnight to dry. Combine tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, onion, giardiniera, capers and parsley in large, nonreactive bowl; mix gently but well. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine vinegar, mustard, minced anchovies (if used) and oregano. Whisk in olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over mixed vegetables, stir to blend, and let sit at least 2 hours or overnight, covered, in refrigerator.

About 20 minutes before serving, combine 2 cups of the bread cubes with the marinated vegetables. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Add additional red onion slices, and olives, if used. Just before serving, stir in remaining bread cubes, pile mixture onto serving platter and top with anchovy fillets (if used) and parsley.

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