Simplest Panzanella

Seasoned bread crumbs or Tuscan bread mixes with a dressing, feta cheese, cucumbers and romaine lettuce to create a hearty first course. (Christopher Prosperi, Special To The Courant / August 18, 2014)

Some of the best dishes trace their roots to peasant cooking. In keeping with the "waste not, want not" principle, budget-minded cooks have always found ways to put leftovers, less tender cuts of meat and day-old bread to good use.

Panzanella, the Tuscan bread and tomato salad, stands as a good example. An enterprising cook realized that stale bread cubes would sop up the vegetable juices and dressing, turning the bread soft and chewable again. This recipe depends on the freshest, ripest tomatoes for flavor. To kick up this salad a notch, substitute heirloom tomatoes in a variety of colors.

This variation uses seasoned bread crumbs, which absorbs and thickens the dressing. Feta cheese adds a bit of salty tang. The salad is served over romaine lettuce, turning the dish into a hearty first course.

SIMPLEST PANZANELLA

>>2 small cucumbers, diced

>>2 large tomatoes, diced

>>1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

>>6 basil leaves, chopped

>>1 cup panko bread crumbs tossed with 1 tablespoon olive oil and I tablespoon dried oregano and toasted in a 350-degree oven for 6 minutes at 350.

>>1/2 cup favorite Italian dressing

>>I head romaine, shredded, washed and spun dry

In a large mixing bowl, toss the cucumber, tomato, feta cheese, basil, bread crumbs and Italian dressing. Mix well and let sit for 5 minutes. Place shredded romaine into 4 chilled bowls. Top with the tomato mix and serve. Makes 4 salads.