When I first discovered this salad I made it every week for months. I could not get enough of it. I love the way the bread soaks up the dressing and juice from the tomatoes. The beans and bread can easily make this a meal instead of a side dish.
You need a good quality crusty bread here and a bit stale is okay, but not essential. It does not need to be Italian bread specifically. I've used left over french bread sticks and sour dough with great results. Actually sour dough is so dense you can skip the toasting part if you are short on time. In any case the bread should be tossed with the beans, tomatoes and dressing just before serving. To make ahead of time, mix tomatoes, basil, beans and dressing together several hours ahead, and prepare the bread. At just the last minute, toss the bread into the rest of the salad.
I used my pickled onions this time, and actually a little bit of their brine in place of half of the vinegar, but plain red onions are just fine here.
- 4 thick slices of Italian bread, cut into cubes (about 3 cups of bread cubes)
- 2 cups of ripe tomatoes, a good sweet variety, cherry tomatoes will do nicely as well, cored and chopped
- 1 19 oz can of white beans (navy or cannellini), about 1-½ cups, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup of basil leaves, torn or thinly shredded
- ½ cup of pickled red onions, or fresh red onions, thinly sliced
- 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 2 small cloves of garlic pressed or very finely chopped
- pinch of dried red pepper flakes (optional)
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- fresh black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400. Spread cubed Italian bread on a baking sheet and lightly spray with olive oil or Pam. Toss and spray again. Bread should be spread out on a single layer. Place in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until lightly toasted. Watch carefully, it doesn't take long for these to burn. Set aside.
In a large bowl mix together beans, tomatoes, basil and onions.
In a small bowl add vinegar, water, olive oil, garlic, red pepper (if using) and salt. Whisk together and then pour on top of tomato and bean mixture. Toss well to combine. (At this point you can store this for several hours in the refrigerator, just be sure to take it out about 30 minutes before serving to take the chill out.)
To serve: Toss bean and tomato mixture with the toasted bread pieces. Sprinkle with fresh black pepper and serve immediately.
Makes 4 generous servings.