Panzanella Bread Salad

2 1/2 lbs. best quality tomatoes, preferably a mix of varieties and colors

1 c. of peeled English cucumber, seeds removed and cut into small crescents

1 red bell pepper seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes

¾ lbs. of baguette or ciabatta bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 6 cups)

10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or more to taste

2 t. kosher sea salt

3 shallots, minced

2 to 3 medium garlic cloves, grated to a paste

3 T. white wine or champagne vinegar, more to taste

½ t. Dijon mustard

Freshly ground black pepper

½ c. packed basil leaves, rolled and, using scissors, cut into thin ribbons

Large pinch red pepper flakes (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Toss the bread cubes in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, making sure they are coated. Set bread cubes on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or so until they are firm and crisp and just a bit browned. Set aside.

Cut tomatoes into bite size pieces.

Place tomatoes, red bell pepper cubes and cucumber crescents in a large bowl. In a separate glass jar or measuring cup, combine shallot, garlic, mustard and vinegar. Slowly drizzle olive oil into the jar whisking constantly. Taste and adjust with more oil if desired.

Add dressing, bread and basil to the tomato and cucumber bowl. Toss to coat ingredients and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Let salad sit for about 30 minutes and toss with a bit more olive oil or vinegar if necessary just before serving.  Serves 6.