Panzanella comes from the Latin word panis, meaning “bread.” This is another dish that illustrates Italians’ resourcefulness when it comes to leftovers: The key to this dish is the actually stale—not fresh—bread, which absorbs the flavors in the salad without falling apart and becoming mushy. In the sixteenth century, panzanella was made with just bread, oil, and vinegar. Tomatoes were introduced to Italy in the sixteenth century, but even then they only began to be eaten in the south, where they grew, two hundred years later. Now, of course, Italians all over the Boot love the tomato, and this salad is a staple everywhere.
Bring a Large Saucepan of water to a boil. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Cut an X at the bottom of each tomato and submerge the tomatoes in the boiling water for 10 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to the ice water to cool slightly. Using a small, sharp paring knife, peel off the tomato skins and cut the tomatoes in half. Scoop out and discard the seeds, then cut the tomatoes into 1-inch cubes.
Cut the crusts off the bread, and cut or tear the bread into 1-inch cubes. In a large bowl, whisk ⅔ cup of oil, ¼ cup of vinegar, the garlic, and ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper to blend. Add the bread cubes, tomatoes, and sliced basil, and toss to combine. Set aside until the bread absorbs the vinaigrette, tossing occasionally, about 5 minutes. Season the salad with more salt and pepper to taste.
In a small bowl, soak the capers in the remaining 2 tablespoons of vinegar for 10 minutes. Drain. In another small bowl toss the roasted peppers with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Season the peppers with ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper.
Transfer half of the bread mixture to a 13x9x2-inch glass dish. Arrange half of the roasted peppers, capers, and olives over the bread mixture. Repeat layering with the remaining bread mixture, then the remaining peppers, capers, and olives. Cover the salad and let stand at room temperature for the flavors to blend, at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.
Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over the salad. Garnish with the basil sprigs and serve.
Here are a couple of other great uses for stale bread: To make bread crumbs, cut the stale bread into pieces, then place them in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they’re finely ground. To make croutons, cut the stale bread into bite-size pieces, then place them on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven until crisp and golden, about 8 minutes.
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