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Heirloom Tomato Salad, with Garlic Croutons

September in New York is my favorite time of the year, food-wise, because of all the wonderful produce that’s available at the market. Ripe tomatoes, fragrant peppers, luscious eggplant and flavorful peaches … these are the stuff that dreams are made of.

It’s a season that’s all too brief. Heirloom tomatoes are at the peak of flavor, so enjoy them while they last. With autumn knocking on the threshold, it’ll be October before you know it.

Heirloom tomato salad, with garlic croutons

It’s not panzanella, because the bread isn’t stale.

Panzanella is a bread salad that some attribute to the region of Tuscany in central Italy. Traditionally, stale [salt-free Tuscan] bread is listed as an ingredient. It was a way to use up leftover bread that might otherwise go to waste.

Many recipes in the United States call for toasted and/or fried bread, as well as other additions, ranging from mozzarella cheese, balsamic vinegar, Kalamata olives and Dijon mustard! To my mind, that’s not panzanella. The only ingredients that should be present are stale bread, tomatoes, salt, pepper, herbs, maybe a little garlic or shallot, vinegar and olive oil.

This salad is all about the tomatoes. They’re the stars of this show.

1/2 baguette, cut into small dice*
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thinly
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 small to medium RIPE heirloom tomatoes, cut into chunks
1 medium shallot, peeled and sliced thinly
a generous handful of parsley, chopped
kosher salt
freshly milled black pepper
1 tablespoon (approximate) sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon (approximate) extra-virgin olive oil

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic and sauté until cloves take on a little color, about 1 minute. Lower heat. Add bread cubes to the pan and cook until croutons become a light golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir frequently, taking care not to let the garlic burn. Taste for salt and pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.

Combine tomatoes, shallot, croutons (or bread cubes), garlic and parsley in a large salad bowl. Toss together. Taste for salt and pepper. Drizzle with vinegar and olive oil, then serve immediately.

Time: Approx. 30 minutes, including prep.

*Whether you use fresh or stale bread is up to you. Note that if you use stale bread, omitting the croutons transforms the recipe into a close rendition of panzanella. The salad will taste a little different because the bread won’t be fried, but it will be delicious nonetheless.

This is my submission for Souper (Soup, Salad and Sammie) Sundays for the week of September 6 to September 12, 2010, a weekly foodblogging event organized and hosted by Deb of Kahakai Kitchen.

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