After two years of eating seasonally, my kids have learned to associate seasons with food. So when we returned home from the Harvest Festival at my farm share last weekend with a gallon of vine-ripened, organic tomatoes, my 3rd-grader begged for one of her favorites: tomato bread salad.
This is a salad that can only be made with the ripest, freshest, sweetest tomatoes, so we only make it this time of year. Making it in winter, even with those tantalizingly red tomatoes-on-the-vine, is akin to trick-or-treating on Easter. It just isn’t done. Bread is important, too, but there really is no wiggle room when it comes to tomatoes.
If you’ve never had bread salad before, you might be surprised that an eight-year-old would request it. But the dish is really just croutons and tomatoes, which isn’t that different from other carbohydrate-heavy combos that kids love, like noodles with red sauce or pizza. The trick is to assemble the two moments before serving, so the croutons stay crisp. Once the bread sits in the tomatoes it gets soggy, like cereal that’s sat too long. No way a kid is going to eat that. To round out the meal, heat up the grill and throw on sausage, chicken, whatever. Add a green salad and dinner is ready in no time.
Tomato Bread Salad
Preheat the oven to 400. Dice 4-6 tomatoes and put them in a non-reactive bowl, being careful not to lose any of the juices. Add kosher salt and several tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and let it sit while you make the croutons. Tear a baguette into bite-sized pieces (larger is okay, just not smaller), drizzle them with extra-virgin olive oil and toast them on a lightly oiled cookie sheet until crisp and pale gold. Chop a few teaspoons of fresh basil. When you’re ready to eat, add half the croutons to the tomatoes and toss. Add more croutons until you get the right balance of tomatoes and bread. Taste and add more salt or extra-virgin olive oil as necessary, or even a splash of balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with basil and enjoy.