8 ounces good crusty bread (baguette, sourdough etc.), cut into 1-inch cubes
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
3 pounds ripe summer tomatoes
1 cup celery sliced on the bias
1/4 cup small dice of red onion
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
Leaves from the celery, arugula or baby watercress can be added as a garnish
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Heat 1/2 cup of the olive oil over medium heat in a skillet large enough that the bread can be in one layer. (Alternatively use two smaller skillets, dividing the oil between them.) Add the bread and toss with the oil until all of the bread is coated with the oil. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 30 minutes, until the bread is crispy and hard, much like a crouton. Remove from the oven and cool.
Dice the tomatoes into a 1/2-inch pieces. Place the tomatoes in a large mixing bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients except the basil. Toss together. Marinate for 10 minutes at room temperature, then check the mixture for seasoning and acidity. You can add more vinegar or salt and pepper to taste. Tear or chop the basil and mix it with the tomatoes.
When ready to serve, add the croutons and toss together with the tomatoes. Serve immediately after adding the bread.
Chef Scott Stefanelli has been the chef instructor for the Culinary Institute of Charleston’s fine dining restaurant, 181 Palmer, since it opened in the fall of 2008. In Charleston, he has worked as a chef for Louis’ Charleston Grill, Elliot’s on the Square, JBistro, and the Seashell Restaurant.